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The curse of drug shortages affects GPs, too

30 Jun 2017

You pharmacists have the power to improve my quality of life. My professional life, that is. You may be expanding your role, but I doubt it yet extends to fixing my boiler, weeding my garden or acting as my chauffeur (although I hear the Clinical Pharmacists in General Practice pilots can be quite exploitative).

And I’m sure that, in the interests of intra-professional harmony, once you realise you have the power to improve my quality of life, you’ll want to know how. So I’m going to tell you: never ever, ever, ever again send patients or their prescriptions back to me with the message, ‘Drug/cream X unavailable, alternative needed’.

I realise that the usual rationalisations for drug shortages such as manufacturing problems/temporary unavailability/disappeared into a Black Hole must be as risible, inexplicable and irritating for you as they are for us. But please don’t compound the problem by reflexly dumping the problem in our lap.

After all, what do you think I’m going to do? True, I can prescribe something else. But then what? I’ll only discover that my carefully thought-through alternative is also ‘unavailable’ when the patient returns, again, for a further bout of this absurd prescription ping pong, fuming at what he assumes is my incompetence.

As a non-dispensing GP – as most of us are – how the hell am I supposed to know what’s currently available and what isn’t? Actually, don’t answer that. I’m not sure it’s really your job, but I know for sure it isn’t mine.

So, please: instead of ‘Alternative needed’, how about, ‘Suitable available alternatives are…’ It will relieve me, my patients and my urge to shout expletives at you down the phone.

Thank you. Now, about my boiler…

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