Patients' lives being put at risk by drugs shortage as medicines are sold abroad for bigger profits85% of pharmacists were 'concerned' about drugs shortagesDrugs suppliers can exploit EU rules and sell medicines overseas for profit
Last updated at 8:08 AM on 27th February 2012
The lives of NHS patients are being put at risk because vital prescription medicines are being sold abroad by drugs companies for bigger profits.
In at least one instance a patient is reported to have died after not getting his drugs in time.
Drug suppliers and pharmacies can exploit EU rules and sell medicines intended for the UK abroad as long as they have the correct licence.
Drugs shortage: Manufacturers are selling medicines overseas for large profits – and not leaving enough available in the UK, pharmacists have said
Drugs made in this country are produced almost exclusively for the UK market and selling them abroad has created major shortages.
Manufacturers are able to exploit the fluctuating exchange rate to make big profits when selling medicines in Europe.
New research shows almost half of pharmacists say patients have suffered because of medicinal shortages and over 40 per cent say they have seen a patient hospitalised because of the problem.
More than 85 per cent of 322
pharmacists surveyed by Chemist and Druggist magazine said they were
'very concerned' that patients were being adversely affected by
One patient in Staffordshire after he took a week to get the medication he needed for an immune system disorder.
Medicine: At least one NHS patient died because they couldn't get drugs on time (file photo)
A pharmacist said: 'The patient was very ill
with an immune disorder disease, and it took about a week to get his
medication. By the time we got the drug, he had died.'
Another patient from Surrey who had recently had a kidney transplant waited days for here vital anti-rejection medicine.
And a schizophrenic ended up self-harming because his drugs took days to arrive.
According to IMS Health, a health
consultancy, 11 percent of the 12,600 pharmacies in the UK are now
engaging in the practice of selling drugs for the UK market abroad.
A Parliamentary inquiry uncovered evidence that pharmacists and suppliers are taking advantage currency fluctuations and selling drugs abroad for profit.
Manufacturers claim they are making 'more than enough' drugs to meet the demands of high street pharmacies.
In one example a wholesaler was able to buy enough of one particular drug to supply the whole UK for five years.
Until a Government crackdown even NHS hospitals were wholesaling drugs for profit.
The Royal Surrey Hospital at Guildford made 300,000 on sales of 4million in one year.
A recent independent study showed that a significant number of companies supplying drugs to the NHS are also involved in selling drugs meant for UK patients abroad.
Marian Wilkes, a breast cancer patient who has been on the drug Armidex since cancer treatment in 2007, said she had struggled previously to get a continuous supply of her drug which needs to takes regularly to prevent the recurrence of her disease.
A teaching and education consultant from Thame, Oxfordshire, she has at times had to tour pharmacies in her area to scrap together the drugs she needs.
She said: 'It puts a huge amount of stress on you and one of the worst things for anyone with cancer is stress.
'I don't want to get a recurrence of my cancer – but if you miss out on your drugs, that leaves an opening for it to come back.'
Graham Phillips, owner of the Manor Pharmacy in Wheathampstead, Herts, said that a schizophrenic patient harmed himself after being unable to get hold of his medication for four or five days.
He said: 'The drug was unobtainable and no other pharmacy had it. By the time we got it, the patient had self-harmed.'
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said access to prescribed medicines was 'a basic right that all patients should be able to expect'.
The Department of Health insisted it couldn't stop the trade. A spokesman said: 'It is vital organisations in the supply chain stick to the best practice guidance that was agreed in February last year.
'The Government monitors medicines supply closely and continues to work to ensure that NHS patients receive the medicines they need, when they need them.'
The All-Party Pharmacy Group announced in November that it was holding a full-scale inquiry into the scandal.