General Health
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    NHS Drug Shortages: Why is there currently a shortage of medicines in the UK?

    At the heart of the UK’s healthcare system, the NHS, there is currently a big problem - there is not enough medicine to go around. In this article, we will explore the NHS drug shortage and aim to answer some of the most important questions regarding it. We will look at whether the shortage is a record and what troubles it causes for patients and the healthcare system. Why are these shortages happening? Which important medicines are affected, from diabetes to cancer treatments? Is it just a UK issue, or is it a global problem? And most importantly, where can you get the medicine you need if the NHS cannot support you?

    Is there currently a record drug shortage in the UK?

    Yes, the UK is currently tackling a record-breaking shortage of medicines within the NHS. It is thought that factors such as Brexit and a government tax are the main contributors to this issue. According to the BMJ, The British Generic Manufacturers Association first sounded the alarm and noted that 111 products encountered supply issues in October 2023. This figure is the highest on record and is more than double the number recorded at the beginning of 2022. Notably, half of these affected products (55) are branded generic drugs, despite making up only 10% of prescription products in use across the UK. According to the British Generic Manufacturers Association, the number of shortages dropped to 96 in December 2023.

    Media Coverage

    Recent news coverage has reported the record drug shortage, for example on ITV News. You can watch their coverage below:

    What problems is the medicinal shortage causing?

    The shortage of medicines in the UK is creating a large amount of problems for both suppliers and patients. According to Community Pharmacy England, the situation has escalated to a point where pharmacy teams are dealing with unprecedented challenges in securing prescription medicines. Because of this, at times, pharmacies have to take significant financial risks by buying medications without the guarantee of payment as they cannot afford to subsidise the NHS bill. 

    For patients, the NHS medicine shortage has created a number of challenges and concerns. The rarity of certain medications has resulted in delays that can directly impact health and well-being. A lack of medication can lead to a deterioration of health which can amplify the risks associated with untreated health conditions. Again, according to Community Pharmacy England, in a survey conducted among pharmacy workers, 87% expressed the belief that patients' health is being compromised due to these supply issues.

    What is causing the medicinal supply issues?

    The issues with the supply of medicines could potentially stem from a number of different factors. Community Pharmacy England believes that it can be down to Brexit, the ongoing war in Ukraine, the persistent impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and broader economic instability. As well as these factors, a wide variety of products are experiencing supply issues due to the instability of shipping routes in the Middle East and the Red Sea. According to the BBC, shipping routes are having to redirect to avoid attacks from Houthi rebels, adding around 3,500 miles to shipping journeys. As the NHS sources medications from around the world, this instability will also impact the supply of medicines. 

    How many products are facing medicinal shortages?

    According to The Guardian, the UK has a shortage of 96 medicinal products as of the 18th of December 2023. This was reported by the British Generic Manufacturers Association. This figure marks a decrease from the 111 shortages that were recorded at the end of October 2023. According to a 2023 survey of pressure conducted by Community Pharmacy England, 92% of pharmacy teams are now handling daily medicine supply issues, which is a significant increase from 67% reported in the same survey from the previous year. Of these pharmacies surveyed, 87% of the team members believed that patient health would be impacted because of the delays. 

    Is the medicinal shortage only affecting the UK?

    No, the medicinal shortage is not only affecting the UK and the NHS. In a recent report put together by the European Association of Hospital Pharmacists, 95% of hospital pharmacists across 58 countries are having to handle medicine shortages. This issue is not only affecting the UK but is a global issue, with disruptions affecting suppliers and patients all over the world. 

    4 packets of medications laid flat on a grey surface

    Are HRT drugs facing a supply shortage?

    Yes, recently, HRT drugs that are used to help manage menopause and other conditions, have faced a supply shortage that left patients without the medication they need for extended periods. According to Fertifa, the shortage in 2022 was primarily caused by a surge in demand that suppliers of the medications could not keep up with. This was highlighted by UK Meds during the peak of the shortages. These issues were addressed, however, it is not known whether or not these new medicinal shortages will impact HRT products. 

    Are diabetes medications facing a supply shortage?

    Yes, as reported by UK Meds, a specific diabetes medication called Ozempic has been facing a supply shortage due to an increase in demand. This is because there has been an increase in demand for medications that contain the active ingredient semaglutide. This medication is the active ingredient in the diabetes medication Ozempic but is also the active ingredient in the weight loss medication Wegovy - a medication that has become increasingly popular due to its prominence in celebrity circles. UK Meds have also previously reported which celebrities have been confirmed as using semaglutide medications to lose weight. Like HRT, it is not yet known whether the current medicine shortage will impact diabetes medications like Ozempic.

    Can I still get access to medication during the shortage?

    Yes, you can still get access to the medications that you need during the shortage. Online suppliers of medications, like UK Meds, are able to provide medications that you require, delivered straight to your door. Unlike the NHS, UK Meds has a vast number of medications in stock and ready to be delivered to those who need them. The process of purchasing medication from UK Meds is quick and easy. Simply select the medication that you need, complete our online consultation that, if successful, provides you with a free private prescription, and then complete your purchase. We also offer next-day delivery on the majority of our medications so that you can get what you need when you need it. 

    Can I get diabetes medication online at UK Meds?

    Yes, at UK Meds, we have a number of different diabetes medications that are available to purchase online, including Ozempic which as we previously mentioned has been the subject of some shortages. We also offer diabetes medications such as Metformin, Glucophage SR, Gliclazide and Jardiance.

    Can I get HRT drugs online at UK Meds?

    Yes, you can get HRT drugs online at UK Meds which you can get delivered directly to your door, regardless of whether or not the NHS is experiencing shortages. We have a wide variety of HRT products, including Evorel, Femoston, Kliovance, and Elleste Solo.

    Medically Reviewed by:
    Dr. Alexis Missick MBChB. MRCGP
    GMC reference no: 7151419


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