Taiwo Owatemi MP, chair of the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) in Parliament, has said that there needs to be greater scrutiny of drugs supply and distribution, suggesting that pharmacists should be leading the work.

In a letter to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), shared with The Pharmacistshe asked the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to explain the 'discrepancy' between what pharmacy experts had told the Government about a 'patchy' supply of antibiotics and the Prime Minister's assurances that there was no current shortages of drugs available to treat strep A infections.

She added that curable diseases were being allowed to spread 'due to a lack of storage (for vaccines and antibiotics alike) and poor planning', as in the case of monkeypox. 'A joined-up public health strategy requires the right treatments to be available in the right places, instead of reacting after the event to preventable infections', she added, asking for assurances that lessons would be learnt from previous shortages to ensure that the situation was not repeated.

In an interview with The Pharmacist, Ms Owatemi – who continues to work as a pharmacist - said that issues with drug supply weren’t to do with legislative barriers, but with the organisation of drug supply and distribution. She added that pharmacists should be leading the work around this, ‘because we are known as good supply chain organisers’.

‘I find it really bizarre within our Department of Health and Social Care [DHSC] that that skillset is not recognized to what it should be,’ she added.

She said that she had been told by DHSC staff that there was no issue with drug supply. ‘[But] I know there is an issue because I've walked into a pharmacy the other day, and I know that there's always an issue because that's historically always been a problem.’

‘Maybe from a Department of Health and Social Care perspective, the medicines are there in the numbers that they should be, but the distribution network is not efficient as it should be,’ she added.

‘We have to understand that drug distribution is a massive undertaking and it should have the necessary team to ensure that each area has the right amount of drugs that it should have.’

Ms Owatemi pointed to recent dispute over whether the supply antibiotics is adequate amid rising cases of streptococcus A since September.

Community pharmacists have reported difficulties getting hold of stocks of antibiotics from suppliers over the last few days, but DHSC initially said that it was not aware of any supply issues.

However, DHSC later added that while 'there is no supplier shortage of antibiotics', 'we sometimes have surges for products and increased demand means some pharmacies are having difficulties obtaining certain antibiotics' and said it would be looking to ‘utilise all possible tools’ to ensure stock is available for patients who require treatment for strep A.

Ms Owatemi continued: ‘The Department of Health might be saying there is enough medication, but if every area is not getting it then there might as well not be. Distribution is so important.

‘The whole idea of community pharmacists is that when patients come in then we're able to provide that medicine and when we’re not able to provide that medicine, that means that the distribution supply chain has failed us as a profession.’

Ms Owatemi added that there needed to be greater scrutiny of how effective decisions made by DHSC had been, as well as what could be done to understand improve drug supply more widely.

She said that it was the responsibility of the minister responsible – Minister for Health and Secondary Care Will Quince – to ‘be asking the right question’, adding that as a Parliamentarian, she would be writing to DHSC to find out what was happening around strep A medications.

Currently, government best practice guidance requires manufacturers to ‘have robust supply arrangements in place to ensure medicines are distributed to pharmacies and dispensing doctors in an efficient and timely way’.

The guidance also tasks wholesalers with ‘working with manufacturers to ensure the efficient and timely supply of medicines to pharmacies and doctors’ dispensaries’.

In May 2018, research from the International Pharmaceutical Federation found that investment in training and education are needed to strengthen pharmacists’ roles in supply chains globally.

The Pharmacist has approached DHSC for comment on the organisation of drug distribution and supply. Several suppliers have also been contacted for comment on any issues with distribution or stock around antibiotics used to treat strep A.