NHS medicine shortage: what medicines are affected?

Pharmacists warn of delays and price increases for commonly prescribed drugs

A variety of pills and drugs
(Image credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Pharmacists have warned that many common medicines are becoming increasingly hard to supply, leaving patients facing delays and “vastly increased prices”.

Widely used painkillers, antidepressants and blood pressure drugs are among 80 medical products that have been put on a “price concessions” list by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, which supplies NHS pharmacies - up from 35 in October.

The list features drugs for which the Department of Health has agreed to pay over the odds in order to prevent shortages.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, gave the example of anti-inflammatory naproxen, which he said was “completely out of stock” and could only be purchased at a cost of £6.49 a box - a £2 hike on the price last agreed by the NHS, reports the BBC.

The Independent notes that a “similar spike in 2017” saw the number of concessions reach a high of 91 and ultimately cost the NHS an extra £315m.

As the current crisis grows, some pharmacists are sending patients back to their GPs to “ask for a different medicine or dosage”, while others are “giving patients some of their prescription and sending them away with an IOU note for the rest”, adds the BBC.

Other medicines on the list include the 40mg dosage of furosemide, used to treat high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, which is the 23rd most commonly prescribed drug in England.

There are also supply problems for the 20mg and 40mg doses of fluoxetine, used to treat depression, and the 20mg and 40mg doses of propranolol, a common beta-blocker used to treatment of anxiety.

Topiramate, an anticonvulsant that helps control seizures brought on by epilepsy, has been granted a price concession in both its 50mg and 100mg forms, as has the 1mg, 2mg, 3mg and 4mg doses of antipsychotic drug risperidone.

Gareth Jones of the National Pharmacy Association told the BBC that uncertainty over Brexit appears to be a “significant factor” in the shortages. He advised that patients should “order medicines in advance” to “give the pharmacist more time to deal with it”.

Martin Sawer, executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Association, suggested that stockpiling by manufacturers could be affecting supplies.

“Some businesses could be speculating on Brexit. That’s the nature of the market,” he said.

The Daily Express reports that “increased global demand, cost of raw materials, new regulatory requirements” have also been cited as factors for driving up costs, along with fluctuations in exchange rates.

And an NHS push to drive down the prices that it agrees for drugs has “made the UK less attractive to manufacturers”, the newspaper adds.

Meanwhile, former Liberal Democrat MP Sandra Gidley argues that blaming Brexit for dwindling supplies is a red herring, telling the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that shortages “have been a problem for some years”.

“The situation with Brexit is that the Government have recognised that there could be potential supply problems and they have been asking manufacturers to keep in a buffer stock so that if there are freight problems, trouble with customs, patients will still get their drugs,” Gidley said.

“Unfortunately, what’s been happening on social media over Christmas is that people have been putting two and two together and assuming that this is because of Brexit.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.