News

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 27 September 2021

Media Coverage

UK pharmacies in dark about ministers’ plan to maintain drug supplies
The Guardian, Ben Quinn, 26 September 2021

The Guardian reports that UK pharmacists are waiting for government information on what measures are in place to tackle the delays to drug supply deliveries as a result of van driver shortages.

Some pharmacists have suggested that a “serious shortage protocol” would be used if the situation continues. This would allow pharmacists to supply alternate forms and strengths of medicines without the need to contact the prescriber. The government initiated this as a solution to hard Brexit concerns and supply problems.

The National Pharmacists Association (NPA) said that it was aware that deliveries to some pharmacies had been reduced and that its members worked together and with local GPs to get medicines that were needed when problems occurred.

A spokesperson for the NPA said: “A resilient medicines supply chain is obviously vital to the health of the nation, so it’s important this isn’t allowed to escalate into a widespread problem that impacts patient care.”

Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, raised concerns about what measures were in place to ensure that supply lines were not disrupted. She said: “We do everything we can to make sure that we are prepared for any eventuality so that people are not left without medicines.”

This weekend pharmacies were quoted saying that some orders were either arriving late or not at all, though customers were still being served. Pharmacists who travel to do home visits are affected by the fuel shortages caused by the supply chain crisis.

This was also reported by LBC and The Express.

Patients face delays on prescriptions as van driver shortage hits pharmacies
The Telegraph, Daniel Capurro, 25 September 2021

The Telegraph reports that patients are experiencing delays to their prescriptions and shortages of over-the-counter drugs because of a lack of van drivers. Pharmacists expect that this will get worse as demand rises over the winter with an increase in demand for medications owing to more widespread respiratory illnesses such as common colds and flu.

Pharmacies have reported that orders are either arriving late or not at all, without any warning and that at least one major supplier of medications had to suspend deliveries for a week because of distribution problems.

The article suggests that the shortage of van drivers is a result of the wider scarcity of labour in the economy, and of drivers having to self-isolate because of Covid-19 and a recent change in the rules on freelancing.

A National Pharmacy Association (NPA) spokesman said: “We are aware that deliveries to some pharmacies have been reduced, but this is not generally affecting patients’ access to treatment at this stage. Whenever supply problems occur, pharmacists work together, with each other and local GPs, to get people the medicines they need, when and where they need them.”

Additionally, the disruption has affected supplies of over-the-counter medications, one supplier has suspended delivery of all over-the-counter medicines for several weeks.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

 There were no parliamentary updates today.

 

Full Coverage

UK pharmacies in dark about ministers’ plan to maintain drug supplies
The Guardian, Ben Quinn, 26 September 2021

Pharmacists are waiting for details from the government about what measures are in place to deal with any delays to deliveries of drug supplies as a result of van driver shortages.

If the situation worsens, pharmacists have suggested that one fall-back could involve the use of a “serious shortage protocol”, which the government had originally prepared, against the backdrop of hard Brexit concerns, to cater for drugs with known supply problems. This would enable pharmacists to supply alternate forms and strengths of medicines without the need to contact the prescriber.

The National Pharmacists Association (NPA) said on Sunday that it was aware that deliveries to some pharmacies had been reduced and that its members worked together and with local GPs to get medicines that were needed when problems occurred.

“A resilient medicines supply chain is obviously vital to the health of the nation, so it’s important this isn’t allowed to escalate into a widespread problem that impacts patient care,” added the spokesperson for the NPA, which acts as the trade association for independent community pharmacy professionals in the UK.

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive officer of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told the Guardian that she had raised the question of what measures were in place to ensure that supply lines were not disrupted. “It was a question I asked at a round table with government representatives, so hopefully we will get some reassurance,” said Hannbeck, whose association represents more than 2,000 independent pharmacies around the UK.

“We do everything we can to make sure that we are prepared for any eventuality so that people are not left without medicines.”

Pharmacists are eager to ensure that the panic buying seen at the outset of the pandemic last year does not happen again, especially at a time when Covid-19 booster vaccinations and flu jabs are being administered.

Pharmacies that spoke to the Sunday Telegraph were quoted as saying that some orders were either arriving late or not at all, though customers were still being catered for. However, pharmacists who do home visits are among the healthcare staff who are experiencing problems as a result of fuel shortages caused by the supply chain crisis.

“At the moment I have about a quarter tank of petrol left and it is a concern,” said Claude Pereira, a pharmacist in London who carries out essential blood testing for people who are at risk of blood clotting.

While ambulance fleets will, in theory, have stocks of fuel, Pereira pointed out that the crisis was having an impact on workers such as pharmacists upon whom some housebound members of the public rely.

“We rely on our cars to get us to those places, and if we can’t use them, then it’s an issue. I went out at 5.30 [on Sunday morning] and went around a number of petrol stations in an attempt to get fuel, but I couldn’t. I’m crossing my fingers that things will calm down in the coming days.”

The NHS, Department of Health and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have been approached for comment.

Patients face delays on prescriptions as van driver shortage hits pharmacies
The Telegraph, Daniel Capurro, 25 September 2021

Patients are facing delays to their prescriptions and shortages of over-the-counter drugs because of a lack of van drivers, and the problem is expected to get worse as winter drives up demand, pharmacists have warned.

Multiple pharmacies have told The Telegraph that orders are either arriving late or not at all, without any warning and that at least one major supplier of medications had to suspend deliveries for a week because of distribution problems.

The shortage of van drivers is being caused by a combination of factors, including the wider scarcity of labour in the economy, drivers having to self-isolate because of Covid-19 and a recent change in the rules on freelancing.

Martin Hewitson runs an independent pharmacy in Dorset and is a former board member of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA). He told The Telegraph: “It’s not happening every day, but once, twice, three times a week we’re having disruption to wholesale deliveries. Medicines which we were expecting end up not arriving, often with no explanation.”

Negative impact of winter

Winter is expected to worsen the problem, with pharmacists warning that the colder months usually bring an increase in demand for medications owing to more widespread respiratory illnesses such as common colds and flu.

An NPA spokesman told The Telegraph: “We are aware that deliveries to some pharmacies have been reduced, but this is not generally affecting patients’ access to treatment at this stage. Whenever supply problems occur, pharmacists work together, with each other and local GPs, to get people the medicines they need, when and where they need them.”

Steve Anderson, the UK mnaging director of Phoenix Medical, one of the UK’s big three suppliers, admitted there was disruption to deliveries, but said the problem was affecting the whole sector and was part of wider disruption to the UK economy.

‘The whole thing is a shambles’

Pharmacies rarely hold large stocks of drugs, with thousands of different possible medicines needing to be ordered and customers often requiring a variety of dosages and formulations.

“Pharmacies are a classic just-in-time supply chain,” said Mr Hewitson. “There’s never huge amounts of surplus stock in the supply chain”.

Dimple Bhatia, who runs the Tollesbury pharmacy in rural east Essex, said the disruption was hitting patients and costing pharmacies money.

He said: “We don’t know if we’re getting stock or not. We’ve got urgent medicines to give to patients so we reorder it and then we get two lots in, with one turning up three days late. It’s an admin burden having to return it and if we return too much we get penalised. The whole thing is a shambles, really.”

Impact of remote GP appointments

Pharmacists said they weren’t turning patients away but we’re instead having to phone around other local pharmacies asking if they could help or asking GPs to write alternative prescriptions.

“It can damage our reputation because people don’t understand the bigger picture,” said Mr Bhatia.

Pharmacies were already under intense pressure, having taken on extra burdens due to the pandemic. Mr Bhatia added: “We’re providing flu jabs, distributing lateral flow tests, we’ll be starting Covid booster shots next month and we’re providing advice because GP surgeries still haven’t got their doors open and so people are turning to their pharmacies for everything.”

Customers in tears due to medicine shortage

Mr Hewitson told The Telegraph: “It’s worrying [patients], if nothing else. I’ve had a woman in tears this morning who couldn’t get her medicine from her regular pharmacy. We were able to help her out.”

The disruption has also affected supplies of over-the-counter medications, with one supplier said to have suspended delivery of all over-the-counter medicines for several weeks.

One reason for the shortage of drivers is the generally tight labour market, with workers less willing to put up with long hours and low pay. This has been exacerbated by remaining drivers being asked to work longer and more frequent shifts.

Another factor is thought to be recent changes to IR35 freelancing rules. The Government has taken action on companies treating full-time employees as freelancers. However, this has forced some drivers who want to retain their freelance status to work for multiple companies at once, leaving individual businesses without guaranteed service.

Asked about the lack of van drivers, a spokesman from the Unite union told The Telegraph: “The casualisation of van driving work, with drivers being forced to be either bogusly self-employed or self-employed, coupled with long hours and poor rates of pay is leading to van drivers leaving the sector.”

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 27 September 2021

From Factory to Pharmacy

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