News

Media And Political Bulletin – 24 March 2020

Media and Political Bulletin

24 March 2020

Media Summary

Coronavirus: pharmacies urge people to stop stockpiling paracetamol

iNews, Paul Gallagher, 23 March 2020

iNews reports that pharmacies have urged people to stop stockpiling drugs. Huge increase in demand for medical items such as paracetamol and thermometers have led to gaps on shelves although there is no overall shortage of prescription medicines, officials have said.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said pharmacies, the Government, the NHS, pharmaceutical wholesalers and manufacturers are all working together and doing “everything they can to keep the supply of medicines flowing.

The article reports that Martin Sawer of the Healthcare Distribution Association said that there is “plenty of paracetamol in the supply chain” but admitted that the demand for it had increased.

This was also reported in the Daily Mail.

Paracetamol sold for more than £50 per tablet on online bidding sites

The Pharmaceutical Journal, Julia Robinson, 23 March 2020

The Pharmaceutical Journal has found that packets of paracetamol are being sold via online bidding sites at increasingly inflated prices amid concerns around shortages resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In one example, on 19 March 2020, 240 tablets of paracetamol (Panadol; GSK) 500mg were being sold on eBay by a vendor in Sri Lanka for £12,500. This is over 500 times the retail price at Boots, which is currently £1.69 for 16 tablets of Panadol Advance.

In another case, bids for 144 tablets of the same brand of paracetamol reached over £250.

Paracetamol price hikes have also been highlighted by customers visiting community pharmacies in the UK.

DH not yet planning to release pandemic stockpile

P3 Pharmacy, Pharmacy Network News, 23 March 2020

Pharmacy Network News (PNN) reveals that a Government scheme to stockpile essential medicines as a ‘buffer’ against national pandemics still exists in some form – but there are no plans to release any stock as yet.

The DH told PNN its Essential Medicines Buffer Stockpile (EMBS), originally established in 2010 in the wake of the swine flu pandemic, lapsed in October 2019 without contracts being formally renewed. However, some manufacturers agreed to extend their contracts on a voluntary basis up to July 2020, and there are currently 142 medicine lines being stockpiled as part of the EMBS, PNN understands.

It is unclear which medicines are currently being kept back. A spokesperson for the DHSC told PNN that the department “continuously reviews the supply situation for all medicines and will consider releases from the EMBS as and when required to manage supply issues and respond to potential increases in demand”.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

House of Commons – Written Answer, 23 March 2020

James Murray (Ealing North): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if he will make it his policy to recognise the marketing authorisation by the European Medicines Agency of any coronavirus (2019-nCoV) vaccine to ensure there is no risk of delay in the UK acquiring the vaccine in comparison to countries in the EU.

Ms Nadine Dorries (answered on 23 March 2020): The Department of Health and Social Care has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.

 

Full Coverage

Coronavirus: pharmacies urge people to stop stockpiling paracetamol

iNews, Paul Gallagher, 23 March 2020

Pharmacies have urged people to stop stockpiling drugs which has led to chemists around the country suffering from “intermittent supplies”.

Huge increase in demand for medical items such as paracetamol and thermometers have led to gaps on shelves although there is no overall shortage of prescription medicines, officials have said.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said pharmacies, the Government, the NHS, pharmaceutical wholesalers and manufacturers are all working together and doing “everything they can to keep the supply of medicines flowing.

Patients are told to only order a repeat prescription when they have between seven and ten days’ worth of medication left. And NHS England guidance says GPs should not give out prescriptions for rolling months.

Boots has warned it could run out of paracetamol by the end of the week. It only has enough of the drug to last until Saturday, according to an urgent memo sent to workers and seen by The Sun on Sunday.

Boots is expected to limit all products that contain paracetamol to just one per person, less than an industry-wide ration of two per customer transaction. The company told staff the decision has been made in order to “help us support as many customers as possible”.

Supermarket shortfall

Supermarket shelves have also been stripped of all paracetamol and ibuprofen in recent days. Martin Sawer, executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Association said that there is “plenty of paracetamol in the supply chain” but admitted that the demand for it had increased.

A spokesman for the NPA said: “There are sufficient medicines flowing through the system to meet the UK’s needs. There’s been a big increase in demand for many types of medicines. In most cases, pharmacies are currently able to meet need in a timely fashion, even if that means limiting the quantity of certain medicines sold to each customer.

“Certain products, for example, hand sanitisers, paracetamol and thermometers, are only intermittently available. Please only buy the medicines you need now for you and your family; this will help to avoid creating difficulties for others, so that everyone in your community gets the medicines they need.

“There is no overall shortage of prescription medicines, but the current exceptionally high demand means that it may take longer than you are used to for pharmacy staff to process prescriptions.”

This was also reported in the Daily Mail.

Paracetamol sold for more than £50 per tablet on online bidding sites

The Pharmaceutical Journal, Julia Robinson, 23 March 2020

Exclusive: Prices for paracetamol tablets online and in independent community pharmacies has jumped considerably since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Packets of paracetamol are being sold via online bidding sites at increasingly inflated prices amid concerns around shortages resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, The Pharmaceutical Journal has found.

In one example, on 19 March 2020, 240 tablets of paracetamol (Panadol; GSK) 500mg were being sold on eBay by a vendor in Sri Lanka for £12,500.

This is over 500 times the retail price at Boots, which is currently £1.69 for 16 tablets of Panadol Advance.

In another case, bids for 144 tablets of the same brand of paracetamol reached over £250.

Paracetamol price hikes have also been highlighted by customers visiting community pharmacies in the UK.

On 19 March 2020, two Twitter users highlighted that their local pharmacies were charging £9.99 for 32 paracetamol tablets, up substantially from £1.39 the week before. Another Twitter user reported that their local independent pharmacy’s own-brand paracetamol suspensions had doubled in price.

Some branches of Jhoots Pharmacy, an independent community pharmacy chain which owns more than 80 pharmacies, have also been revealed to be one of the pharmacies hiking up paracetamol prices.

In a statement shared on Twitter on 19 March 2020, the West Midlands-based chain said that following an investigation, it had found that the price increases had been made at branch level and that all those affected would be refunded.

“In order to rectify the issue we will make full refunds to our customers affected by this and have taken all appropriate action to ensure that this does not happen again,” it said.

Commenting on the price changes, a spokesperson for the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said: “It’s important that no-one in the supply chain, including pharmacies, breaches good faith with their customers by introducing unjustifiable mark-ups.

“This kind of story must not be allowed to obscure the fact that pharmacists up and down the land are providing a heroic service on the health service frontline.”

On 20 March 2020, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had launched a COVID-19 taskforce following concerns that businesses might exploit the pandemic to take advantage of people by charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about their products.

The taskforce will scrutinise market developments to identify harmful sales and pricing practices as they emerge and warn firms suspected of exploiting these exceptional circumstances through unjustifiable prices or misleading claims.

The CMA added in a statement released on 20 March 2020 that it had already contacted traders and platforms regarding excessive pricing of hand sanitiser.

“This is obviously a time when we all have to behave responsibly to protect our fellow citizens, and particularly those who are most vulnerable” said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA.

“We urge retailers to behave responsibly in the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“But if they do not, our taskforce is monitoring market developments to enable us to intervene as quickly as possible. We have a range of options at our disposal, from warnings to enforcement action to seeking emergency powers.”

On 19 March 2020, the NPA highlighted that while pharmacies are still able to procure prescription only medicine packs of paracetamol, many pharmacies are reporting ongoing shortages of paracetamol 500mg tablets as pharmacy and general sales list packs.

In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 16 March 2020, Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, said that there had been a “300–400% in demand for ibuprofen and paracetamol over the past ten days”.

DH not yet planning to release pandemic stockpile

P3 Pharmacy, 23 March 2020

A Government scheme to stockpile essential medicines as a ‘buffer’ against national pandemics still exists in some form – but there are no plans to release any stock as yet, Pharmacy Network News can reveal.

The Department of Health and Social Care told PNN its Essential Medicines Buffer Stockpile (EMBS), originally established in 2010 in the wake of the swine flu pandemic, lapsed in October 2019 without contracts being formally renewed.

However, some manufacturers agreed to extend their contracts on a voluntary basis up to July 2020, and there are currently 142 medicine lines being stockpiled as part of the EMBS, PNN understands.

It is unclear which medicines are currently being kept back. The original scheme, which saw the Department of Health pay manufacturers £80m over five years to house £176m worth of additional stock, covered 454 essential medicines including drugs for epilepsy and schizophrenia, as well as antibiotics and intravenous fluids.

A spokesperson for the DHSC told PNN that the department “continuously reviews the supply situation for all medicines and will consider releases from the EMBS as and when required to manage supply issues and respond to potential increases in demand”.

Gaps in the EMBS were being identified as late as March 2018, when a tender for peritoneal dialysis fluids was issued, covering a period up to the end of March 2020.

In a statement issued last week on measures to support pharmacies tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee said: “Medicine suppliers have already been approached by Government to assess the impact that COVID-19 could have on the supply chain.

“In particular, DHSC has asked suppliers who still retain some of their EU exit stockpiles to hold onto these. We are talking to DHSC about this.”

Previous stockpiling efforts criticized

Government-held buffer stocks have had a chequered history. In 2014 the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee criticised the £560m stockpiling of antivirals oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) for use in a flu pandemic on the grounds that there was a lack of consensus over effectiveness.

Some £74m of Tamiflu was written off as a result of poor record keeping by the NHS on how medicines had been stored during the 2009 pandemic.

Supply chain breaches

Dispensing Doctors’ Association, MHRA, 23 March 2020

The MHRA is currently investigating an incident where several medicines appear to have left the legal supply chain and have then been re-introduced by HMS Wholesale Limited.

The products appear genuine with legitimate batch numbers. These products are thought to have been stolen from the legitimate supply chain in early 2019 and reintroduced into the supply chain between May and August 2019. This means that the correct transport and storage conditions cannot be guaranteed and while unlikely, could impact their effectiveness.

Only specific batch numbers are within the scope of this alert. If you have received any of these batches after the reintroduction date listed in appendix 1, from HMS Wholesale Limited, please follow the advice below:

  • Please check your stocks of all the listed products for the relevant batches supplied from HMS Wholesale Limited. If any relevant packs are identified, please quarantine and notify the DMRC/MHRA. The products are listed in the section Product description.
  • Please note this alert only requires notification to the MHRA if you have been provided any of the products in the section Product description, directly from HMS Wholesale Limited only.
Media And Political Bulletin – 24 March 2020

From Factory to Pharmacy

As part of our mission to build awareness, understanding and appreciation of the vital importance of the healthcare distribution sector, we developed an infographic explaining the availability of medicines. It identifies the factors that can impact drug supply, as well as the measures that HDA members undertake day in, day out to help mitigate the risks of patients not receiving their medicines.

See the Infographic

Apply to become a Member

Membership of the HDA guarantees your organisation:

  • Access to leading policy and industry forums of debate and discussion
  • Invitations to a range of networking industry events organised through the year, including an Annual Conference and a Business Day
  • Representation on HDA working parties, including the Members’ Liaison Group
  • A daily Political and Media Bulletin and HDA Newsletters
  • Access to HDA policy documents and all sections of the HDA website
  • Branding and marketing opportunities
Apply Now

Already a Member?