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Medicines Availability in the UK Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

It is as a community that the NHS works together to provide services to support patient health and wellbeing. It is an extended community that the NHS works with its partners within the wider pharma sector and the pharmaceutical supply chain.  Within a community we are stronger; we know more; we can achieve more.

With this philosophy in mind, the University of Bradford School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences brought together members of this community in a focused one-day symposium focussed on Medicines Availability in the UK Pharmaceutical Supply Chain (September 2019). Such facilitated events are not commonplace in this supply chain.

The aim of this symposium was to understand more clearly the factors affecting access to medicines and design an improvement agenda to secure medicines availability.  The event provided a neutral forum to bring together key professionals involved in the sourcing, buying and distribution of medicines within the UK to talk face to face about this issue. The outputs of the day provide stakeholder informed views to guide change and developments within the NHS and the medicines supply chain. The intended outcome was to facilitate collaboration around a common agenda: improve medicines supply to treat patients. This symposium delivered to this and the summary outputs are being shared with the health and social care and pharma communities.

Within the UK now and for some time we have experienced periodic medicines shortages: problems with patients accessing certain medicines including epipens (August, 2018), HRT patches (April 2022) and naproxen (January 2019). The NHS Long Term Plan (NHS, 2019) advocates that patients should have control and choice. However, patients can feel powerless trying to access their medicines, and anxious about the coverage of medicines shortages in the media. Healthcare professionals such as GPs and Pharmacists may also feel frustrated as they cannot always support patient access to medicines when there are shortages.  Steps are being taken by government bodies such as NHS England/Improvement (NHSE/I) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to design and deploy protocols to mitigate medicines shortages but despite this medicine shortages are still highly prevalent.

The below summary document was created in October 2019. The quantity of medicines shortages has escalated in the past three years. The issues causing these disruptions have not changed. We have not edited the content of this paper from its original version. This offers a direct comparison from views expressed then to now. We are aware that some of the recommendations proposed then may already be actioned.

Professor Liz Breen
Professor of Health Service Operations
University of Bradford, School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences

Medicines Availability in the UK Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

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