Medicines shortages increase as prescribing costs rise £158 million

Increasing medicines shortages have added more than £150m to prescribing costs in the past year, new figures show.

Patients whose medication is out of stock may have to return to their GP for an alternative prescription. | GETTY IMAGES
Patients whose medication is out of stock may have to return to their GP for an alternative prescription. | GETTY IMAGES

More than 130 products are currently listed on the MIMS drug shortages tracker, up from around 100 in August.

Further information

View drug shortages tracker

Meanwhile, figures compiled by the openprescribing.net website show that price concessions triggered by drug shortages over the past year have added more than £158m to prescribing costs for CCGs across England.

A list of price concessions maintained by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) shows that around 50 products a month currently attract these concessions, which are granted by the DHSC when shortages mean that pharmacies have to dispense more expensive alternatives.

The MIMS tracker shows there are continuing long-term shortages of H2 antagonists and certain HRT preparations. In other cases prolonged shortages have led to products being discontinued - such as Adalat LA (nifedipine) and Carbagen (carbamazepine).

Although coverage of the MIMS shortages tracker has recently been expanded to cover vaccines and hospital drugs, this does not appear to account for all of the increase in shortages reported.

Polling by MIMS' sister website GPonline earlier this year found that more than nine out of 10 GPs had noticed an increase in medicines they prescribe being unavailable over the past 12 months - with 71% of the 400 GPs who took part reporting they had been forced to prescribe second choice drugs fairly or very often.

Workload pressure

GPs have warned that medicines shortages are adding to workload pressure caused by an expanded flu campaign and the backlog from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nottinghamshire LMC chair Dr Greg Place told GPonline that at his own practice, items prescribed by GPs turned out not to be available 'at least twice a week - either an acute prescription we have raised or a repeat that has become difficult to source'.

He warned that in some cases shortages varied between pharmacies - forcing patients to go to multiple places in search of their prescribed medicine.

Dr Place added: 'Pharmacists can't just substitute an alternative - we will need to check for previous reactions and interactions. It's extra work we could do without; extra hassle for patients.'

He added that workload was only 'going one way' for GPs at the moment - and that problems with medicines shortages, which had been 'getting worse for the last 18 months or so', simply 'adds to the stress'.

Healthcare professionals are encouraged to report any new shortages they encounter using the pop-up box at the bottom of the shortages tracker page. They can also now enter their email address in the box to receive further information about the shortage (if available).

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