Call for stronger action on medicine supply chain

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The government must take stronger action to tackle shortages of medicine in the supply chain, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has warned.

The ABPI welcomed publication of government guidance on the issue but warned that there is still much to be done to ensure UK patients don’t lose out because of the activities of a minority in the supply chain trading medicines for profit, exploiting the low cost of UK drugs and fluctuating exchange rates.

ABPI director general Richard Barker said: “The problems patients, the NHS and industry have encountered over the past 18 months will need stronger action from Government if we are going to tackle the root causes of this problem.

“The ABPI has consistently called for the number of wholesaler dealers licences in the UK to be reduced to enable better regulation by the MHRA and wants to see stricter obligations on all in the supply chain to ensure UK patients are always the priority.”

It pointed out that there are currently 1,800 Wholesale Dealer Licences granted in the UK, the second highest in Europe, behind Germany. Latest ABPI data shows that France has 39, Belgium 90 and Denmark 6. The average for most other countries is around 250-300.

The government guidance – “Best Practice for Ensuring the Efficient Supply and Distribution of Medicines to Patients” sets out procedures to help ensure UK patients can obtain their medication.

The president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Martin Astbury said: “The real test will be how effectively it is implemented by all parties, particularly the focus of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly and the Department of Health on making the supply chain work for patients.

“We fear that if an effective solution is not forthcoming, patient care will continue to suffer.”

The RPS pointed out that in Scotland the snow storms in December 2010 caused a crisis in the supply of medicines to Scottish pharmacies.

Director for RPS Scotland Alex MacKinnon said: “Pharmacists are still having real problems getting hold of medicines. The supply chain is brittle and cannot flex with increases in demand or logistical challenges.

An RPS survey of community pharmacists in Scotland showed that 97 per cent of respondents think there are structural issues within the medicines supply chain, such as a reliance on single wholesalers for a number of medicines.

“A recent example of this came with the severe weather conditions experienced across the country, especially in Scotland, where 92 per cent of pharmacists we surveyed reported that during December they were prevented from dispensing a prescription because they were not able to obtain the medicine,” said McKinnon.

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