The price of an anti inflammatory drug has gone from 80p to £6.49 © Graphia76/123RF
The price of an anti inflammatory drug has gone from 80p to £6.49 © Graphia76/123RF

Supply problems raising medicine prices

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
18 January 2019

Pharmacists are warning of shortages of key medicines due to supply problems.

Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said prices for medicines had rocketed due to shortages caused by a range of factors including laboratory closures and growing demand from developing countries.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Inside Health programme, he described how the price for a month’s supply of an anti inflammatory drug had increased from 80p to £6.49.

Soni said firms stockpiling for Brexit was unlikely to be the cause of current shortages. “Brexit is too far away for people to be stockpiling for Brexit – they will be holding stock for a long time. Even for the big companies that is a challenge,” he said.

Soni said along with lab closures and higher demand, supply had reduced because prices had been historically forced down in the UK and this meant companies had stopped manufacturing certain drugs because they were not profitable.

Ben Merriman, a pharmacist at a GP surgery in South Cumbria, told the programme shortages over the past 12 months for “basic, common medicines”, including treatments for blood pressure, epilepsy and gout, were the worst he had experienced in his 12-year career.

“Telling a patient ‘I am sorry I can’t get you the medicine you need to keep you well’ is causing an awful lot of stress and anxiety, which no one wants patients to experience,” he said.

Merriman said the medicines affected were “a few pence per tablet, if that”. “If there is a sudden change in the market we could be paying £4-5 for something we would normally pay 40p or 50p,” he said. “Ultimately it is the NHS that has to pay for this.”

Merriman gave an example of a prostate cancer drug he was having trouble sourcing, which then became available. After checking he discovered the drug had a three-year shelf life but the batch he obtained expired in 13 months’ time.

“Is there stockpiling going on to lead to a shortage to create artificially high prices? I don’t know,” he said.

Soni said a “serious shortage protocol”, due to come into effect in a matter of weeks and designed to deal with Brexit drug shortages, could alleviate the situation because it allows pharmacists to give patients alternatives to what has been prescribed, within strict boundaries, without the need to consult GPs.

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