It’s always been one of the little miracles of logistics. Turn up at your local chemist with a prescription and no matter how exotic the drug, it will be obtained for you within a couple of hours.
At least that always used to be the case, but for more than 18 months pharmacists have been complaining that they carmot always get the medicines they need because of problems in the supply chain.
It appears that the fall in the value of the pound and changes to the product supply introduced by manufacturers have significantly changed the way the supply chain operates. And as a result, medicines are being redirected to other, more profitable markets.
In fact, the Department of Health is so concerned that last month it issued a guidance note, Best Practice for Ensuring the Efficient Supply and Distribution of Medicines to Patients. This concluded that the aim of all parties in the supply chain should be that, under normal circumstances, pharmacies should receive medicines within 24 hours.
It made some useful recommendations about planning and buffer stocks. But there is a tinge of desperation in its call for patients to request prescriptions in good time.
Not surprising then, that pharmaceutical groups have called for a stronger response. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has called for the number of wholesaler dealers licences in the UK to be reduced to enable better regulation, and for stricter obligations on all in the supply chain to ensure UK patients are always the priority.
The problem was exacerbated in Scotland by the harsh weather before Christmas, As a result, the director of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Scotland, Alex MacKinnon, was moved to say: “The supply chain is brittle and cannot flex with increases in demand or logistical challenges.”
These people are not noted for exaggeration, so such strident criticism of the workings of the supply chain needs to be taken very seriously. The government has a key role in this, and it must take the lead in developing a lasting solution.