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Medicines shortages investigation to be launched by the RPS

A new project to investigate the causes of medicines shortages and help reduce their impact on patients and pharmacy practice is to be launched by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).

An advisory group will be chaired by former deputy chief pharmaceutical officer for NHS England and RPS fellow Dr Bruce Warner and will bring together experts from primary and secondary care, patients, the pharmaceutical industry, suppliers, regulators, government and the NHS.

It will examine the growing challenge of medicines shortages and develop a report informed by a literature review, stakeholder interviews, online RPS member events and patient stories.

This report will provide expert thought leadership and support for the wider debate on UK policy and include recommendations to address the factors behind medicine shortages and steps to take to reduce their impact on patient care.

Dr Warner said that despite the ‘huge amount of work’ happening behind the scenes of government and the NHS – which he said he had first-hand experience of – it was clear from patient groups that ‘medicines shortages continue to be a real concern’.

‘Medicines are a key part of NHS care and their supply chain is a critical part of the UK’s infrastructure.

‘Medicines shortages may not be new, but there is now a growing recognition that greater collaboration is needed to help drive change,’ he added.

Meanwhile Professor Claire Anderson, RPS president, said that helping patients get the medicines they need was ‘at the very core of pharmacy practice’.

And she acknowledged the ‘toll’ that the ‘significant increase’ in medicines shortages over the last few years has taken on pharmacists and patients.

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‘Patients can be bounced from pillar to post when a medicine is in short supply, and we’ve seen recent cases where they are really struggling to find an alternative. This is distressing for patients and frustrating for pharmacists,’ she said.

Describing medicines shortages as ‘a shared challenge across the health system’, Professor Anderson said the new project would ‘bring together key stakeholders, undertake research and offer solutions to improve patients’ experience’.

Sharon Brennan, director of policy and external affairs at the patient group National Voices, said that its more than 200 health and social care charity members had been ‘increasingly hearing’ concerns around medicine shortages raised by the people they advocate for.

‘Chasing prescriptions, trying to get a GP appointment to have an alternative medicine prescribed, or in many cases for support with their health condition when their medication runs out, places increasing burden and unnecessary anxiety on patients,’ she said.

She added: ‘We are hopeful this advisory group will consider practical, short-term solutions to the current problems patients are facing alongside longer-term solutions to prevent this issue from continually arising.

‘Without this, we know patients will continue to live with the real worry that their health will worsen without access to the medications that are vital to their health.’

In October 2023, the European Medicines Agency announced a new solidarity mechanism that allows EU Member States to support each other in obtaining medicine stocks during a critical medicine shortage.

And in December 2023, the European Association of Hospital Pharmacists welcomed a raft of recently released measures to better prevent and mitigate medicines shortages in the European Union.

A version of this article was originally published by our sister publication The Pharmacist.

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