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We need a serious antidote to medicines shortages

By Dr Livingstone
GP blogger

20 Nov 2019

Shortages of life-saving medicines have gone from a minor worry to a national problem, writes The Pharmacist’s GP blogger Dr Livingstone

Drug shortages have been around for so long now, that – like shortages of other essentials such as doctors, appointments and toilet breaks – they’re part of the primary care landscape.

As a result, when the patient returns to my surgery clutching a non-redeemable prescription, requesting an alternative, I just roll my eyes, shrug my shoulders and move on.

But with the recent revelations of more frequent shortages affecting increasingly important drugs, the problem is shifting up a gear, from inconvenient to intolerable.

Take two of the shortages that are predicted to hit soon: anti-Parkinson’s drugs and anti-epileptics. Both are vital medications, and both are initiated by specialists. Switching from one type to another is fraught with problems and is most definitely outside my remit, yet the local wait for a neurology appointment is currently many months.

So, what happens in the interim? Patients with Parkinson’s could fall, fracture hips and end up in hospital. Patients with epilepsy could fit, sometimes with fatal results.

We can sleep easy, though. According to the reports, the Department of Health and Social Care’s well-thought out and sophisticated response is to suggest that agencies should share medication supplies, and that patients can break tablets in half.

Brilliant. Rather more brilliant would be the Government setting up a properly funded and medically staffed helpline to advise us on shortage durations and possible solutions.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to be driven to despair by an increasingly frustrating and dangerous situation.

I’ll steer clear of any ill-judged cyanide-based parasuicidal gestures, though: the media leak suggests there’s a serious shortage of the antidote.

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