An investigation by the BBC has revealed that the number of common medications that are considered of short supply in England has doubled, leading to fears that pharmacists and consumers are being forced to pay “vastly increased” prices for them.

The Department of Health considers 80 medicines to be in short supply, an increase from 45 in October, with concerns raised that Brexit will only worsen the situation. While there’s no concrete solution for the shortage it’s thought that a number of factors have contributed: an increased global demand; the cost of raw materials; regulations increasing costs; changing exchange rates; and companies ceasing production of generic products which do not generate revenue.

Published by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), the monthly lists detail “concession prices” for drugs which the NHS has agreed to pay a higher price for over a short term while the drugs are in short supply. These prices are paid by pharmacists, who are in turn reimbursed by the NHS.

The list of drugs in short supply includes: dosulepin, a treatment for depression and fibromyalgia; quetiapine, an atypical antipsychotic routinely prescribed to people living with schizophrenia; risperidone, which is used to treat irritability in autistic people; and topiramate, an anti-convulsant frequently prescribed to people living with epilepsy.

While the 80 drugs are in short supply, it’s vital to remember that it is only the generic versions of the drugs that are included on the list. For example, if the generic drug ibuprofen was in short supply, it would still be possible to buy the branded product Nurofen. Similarly, if paracetamol was in short supply, the branded alternatives of Calpol and Panadol would likely still be available.

Speaking to the BBC, the president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Ash Soni said that the current short supply is unprecedented, noting that the prescription-only anti-inflammatory drug naproxen recently went completely out of stock, with pharmacists “dispensing at a loss” for patients to get their drugs on behalf of the NHS.

Concerns have been raised that Brexit could cause further havoc with pharmaceutical drugs, with the Government telling manufacturers of drugs advice to create a stockpile of medication which would last at least six weeks in case of a no-deal Brexit.

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Source: BBC
Image: Flickr/Brandon Giesbrecht

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