The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) is calling for pharmacies to have greater powers to share medicines between one another to help manage shortages

‘One way to help tackle medicines shortages is for pharmacies to once again be allowed to have greater powers to share medicines with each other if one or more pharmacies run short of a particular line,’ said the NPA’s director of corporate affairs, Gareth Jones.

Pharmacies were able to share stock without a wholesale dealer’s licence (WDA) if it didn’t exceed 5% of their turnover under what was known as the ‘5% rule’ until 2012, when it was significantly curtailed to comply with an EU directive.

The Daily Mail reported last week that few community pharmacies can afford the cost of an annual licence, which costs almost £1,000 a year, due to the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector over the past two years.

Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) guidance allows the transfer of medicines between pharmacies without the need to hold a WDA provided it takes place on an occasional basis, the quantity of medicines supplied is small, the supply is made on a not-for-profit basis, and the supply is not for onward wholesale distribution.

Gordon Hockey, PSNC's director, legal, told The Pharmacist the MHRA guidance was helpful, but said a return of the 5% rule ‘would be clearer and give pharmacists and pharmacies greater confidence to share medicines with each other with the aim of meeting patient demand’.

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘The UK has some of the cheapest generic medicines in Europe and good continuity of supply.

‘Generic suppliers have freedom of pricing and can therefore put prices up quickly to ensure we maintain continuity of supply despite increasing prices within the global market.’

This comes as the industry is experiencing a shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medicines, with the PSNC announcing three new serious shortage protocols for HRT medicines (to 29 July): Oestrogel Pump-Pack 0.06% gel, Ovestin 1mg cream and Premique Low Dose 0.3mg/1.5mg modified-release tablets.

An HRT Supply Taskforce was announced last month to identify ways to support the HRT supply chain and community pharmacists and HRT suppliers met with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) earlier this month to discuss disruptions to the supply chain.

The RPS is calling for community pharmacists to be able to dispense substitutes for out-of-stock HRT products without having to contact the prescriber, while pharmacists in England can now limit the amount of HRT products women can access to help manage the shortages.

The shortage is due, in part, to a rise in demand due to greater awareness around the menopause, with a 38% increase in the number of prescription items over the past seven years, the DHSC said when announcing the taskforce. Prescription data, published in March, suggested HRT prescriptions had doubled over the last five years.

The Pharmacist also reported last week that high street pharmacies had run out of certain hay fever medicines due to limited stocks of chlorphenamine maleate, the active ingredient in brands such as Piriton.