Cheap NHS prescription medicine is being sold to Europe for profit, putting British patients at risk, MPs warn
Speculators can legally export drugs from UK to EU – even if it causes shortages in BritainAffected patients include those with mental health problems, diabetes, epilepsy and difficult pregnancies
10:18 GMT, 15 May 2012
Patients are suffering because NHS prescription medicines meant for the UK are being sold abroad for profit, a Parliamentary group has warned.
Medicine shortages are having an 'adverse' impact on patients, including vulnerable groups such as those with mental health problems, the All-Party Pharmacy Group said.
In a report detailing its inquiry into medicine shortages, the group said the shortages had been mainly caused by the export of medicines intended for the UK market to other EU countries. They said the issue had now reached urgent proportions.
Shortages: Highly qualified pharmacists are having to spend time locating medicines in short supply, the MPs noted
This exporting is conducted by speculators and is legal under EU and UK law, the report noted.
Highly qualified pharmacists are having to spend time locating medicines in short supply, the MPs noted.
But in spite of the best efforts of pharmacists, the group said it had been told of cases involving vulnerable patients not receiving the medicine they need because of shortages.
These included patients with mental health problems, epilepsy sufferers, diabetics, and even pregnant women in need of medicine to stabilise their pregnancy.
'Evidence we received highlights the stress, anxiety and sometimes harm that patients suffer,' the MPs said in their report.
The group warned that the UK has been experiencing shortages of NHS prescription medicines for four years.
'We have no objection to the export of medicines in principle, so long as this practice does not harm patients,' they said.
'However, throughout this inquiry, we have seen evidence that patients are suffering and that pharmacists' time and resources are being diverted away from patient care as a result of medicines being in short supply.'
Ronan Brett, Head of Professional and External Relations at Lloydspharmacy said 80 per cent of their pharmacists had been unable to fill four or more prescriptions a week.
In its report, the group calls for a 'renewed sense of urgency' to deal with the problem by those organisations involved in the supply of medicine.
The Government must 'unequivocally' state that the interests of UK patients must come first and not provisions concerning the free movement of goods, it said.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said patients were being put at risk
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: 'The very least patients should be able to expect is for prescribed medicines to be available to them when required.
'However, all too often this simple expectation is not being met and as a result patients, some of whom have serious medical conditions that require medicine to remain stable, are being put at risk.
'The Government needs to investigate this problem as a matter of urgency, using the findings of this report as a starting point.'
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: 'It is vital that patients get the medicines they need. In the vast majority of cases they do.
'There are nearly 900 million prescriptions dispensed a year, almost 11,000 community pharmacies and some 16,000 medicines so some shortages and delivery delays are inevitable.
'We monitor medicines supply closely and we continue to work closely with representatives of the medicines supply chain to ensure that NHS patients receive the medicines they need.
'We have well established arrangements for dealing with supply issues, to minimise any potential impact on patients.
'Much of this work goes unseen, as difficulties are prevented before they happen.
'We will carefully consider the recommendations the All-Party Pharmacy Group make in their report.'
Rob Darracott, chief executive of Pharmacy Voice, which represents community pharmacy owners, said: 'Pharmacists up and down the country are making extraordinary efforts to get medicines to their patients promptly, and in most cases succeeding.
'But there is a long-standing problem with medicines delays which must not be allowed to continue indefinitely.
'Department of Health guidance states that pharmacies should wait no more than 24 hours for supplies of medicines – patients have a right to expect that this very reasonable commitment is met every time.
'This needs to be treated as a firm and enforceable obligation, not just guidance which can be ignored when convenient.'
Mr Brett, at Lloydspharmacy said: 'This report does the important job of drawing attention to the significant problem of medicines shortages, which is having a real impact on patient health.
'Our pharmacists have made it clear to us that they are finding it increasingly difficult to get hold of standard, widely prescribed medicines; 80 per cent have been unable to dispense items for four or more prescriptions a week.
'This is particularly concerning when it impacts patients with serious or long term conditions, and in particular vulnerable older patients.'