MPs call for Government to ‘get a grip’ on drugs shortages

MPs have urged the Government to “get a grip” on drugs shortages and commission an independent review of the medicines supply chain.

The Health and Social Care Committee also called for a “complete overhaul” of the funding framework for community pharmacy if the sector is to realise its potential.

The report, published as part of the committee’s inquiry into pharmacy services, warned the sector is “creaking under the strain of funding pressures, medicine shortages and skill mix challenges”.

It urged the Government to tackle drugs shortages or risk the failure of Pharmacy First, which was launched in January.

The report said: “While the overwhelming majority of the 14,000 licensed medicines in the UK are in good supply, the number in short supply has been growing since the start of 2022 and is now double what it was in 2021.

“The Government must get a grip on these shortages. It is not enough to rely on existing policies, which are clearly insufficient.

“An independent review of the medicines supply chain must be commissioned to assess the resilience of the supply chain, especially for generic medicines.”

The committee warned that patients could be reluctant to visit pharmacies for clinical services if medication is out of stock, and said Pharmacy First will “fail if people keep having to return to their GP”.

MPs said they were “deeply concerned” to hear about the challenges patients are facing in getting hold of medication, particularly those with type 2 diabetes, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy and cystic fibrosis and women going through menopause.

The report also called for the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) to be “completely overhauled”.

The framework was created by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England to expand the role of community pharmacies to make them the first point of contact for patients in need of health advice or with minor illnesses.

The report said funding for the sector has declined by 30% in real terms since 2015, leading to an annual shortfall for individual owners of at least £67,000 per pharmacy.

The number of pharmacies has fallen by more than 1,000 in the past nine years, the report said, with 34.9% of closures in deprived areas.

It also highlighted staff shortages in the sector, and claimed 86% of the workforce is facing burnout.

It called for the publication of a workforce plan for the sector to ensure new pharmacists have the correct supervision, training and learning time.

The report added: “Despite the challenges that the sector faces, there is great ambition to deliver more for patients.

“The Government and NHS England should match the sector’s own ambition and publish a long-term vision for the further development of clinical services in community pharmacy settings.”

It also said NHS England should commission community pharmacies to deliver HIV prevention drug PrEP, as well as seasonal vaccines for adults and children.

The MPs said community pharmacy has “fantastic potential to improve access to healthcare and alleviate pressures on the wider health service”, but “the sector needs better support if that potential is to be delivered”.

Dr Hannbeck added: “For many pharmacies it is too late but many can be saved if our broken contract and funding is addressed immediately.

“We have always maintained our dedication to patient care and we demonstrated that during the pandemic when we kept our doors open.

“If invested in and supported the pharmacy network can be a huge asset to our NHS and help lift the pressures elsewhere in our healthcare system.”

Paul Rees, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said the “landmark” report should be “essential reading for the next government”.

“It should be first on the desk for any incoming health secretary and they should adopt the MPs’ recommendations without delay,” he added.

“The committee tells it as it is: pharmacies have huge potential to improve local health care and cut GP and hospital waiting times.

“Yet they have suffered a decade of cuts, hundreds upon hundreds have closed and those that remain open face a financial cliff edge.

“There are many sensible detailed recommendations about chronic problems with medicine supply and other issues facing pharmacies and their patients every day. The next government needs to read this report, act on it and help save our pharmacies, otherwise millions of voters will be the poorer.”

A Tory spokesperson said: “The Conservatives recognise the important role that pharmacies have in helping patients receive care more quickly in their local community.

“Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives are delivering on a clear plan to boost the role and support for pharmacies, as we take the bold action needed to help people live healthier and happier lives.”

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