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How shortages are affecting me: ‘We had patients gasping for breath waiting for inhalers we couldn’t supply’


By Rachel Carter
Freelance journalist

09 May 2018

Part of The Pharmacist’s series of case studies on how stock shortages are affecting ordinary pharmacists, a South Shields superintendent explains what impact they are having on the pharmacies he heads up

Tony Schofield, superintendent, Flagg Court pharmacy, South Shields

‘We had a serious problem the week before Easter when we’d breached our quota for an inhaler for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease…we had patients who were gasping for breath, sitting in the pharmacy and waiting for a product that we were unable to supply.

‘We are restricted in the amount we can have [of this product] and if you want to get the quota increased then it involves a time-consuming process. We had requested an increase and faxed the prescriptions across but when we spoke to the manufacturer they said they’d lost them.

‘On the day before Good Friday we were told they would supply us – but the product was only available in a branch 150 miles away and it would have to be couriered to us, potentially not arriving until 7pm.

‘I later managed to get hold of the manager for our local depot and discovered the stock was on the shelves there all along. It was sent over to us in a taxi and fortunately the patients were okay for the bank holiday – but that whole week leading up to it was a nightmare.

‘That’s what I would consider to be the worst example, but we also have the fact we are getting quoted stupid prices for fairly straightforward stuff, which has always been available.’

‘The concessionary price we get back from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) doesn’t even go anywhere near meeting what we’re paying to supply so we’re getting absolutely hammered. We have nine pharmacies altogether and we have lost an enormous amount financially.

‘At least an hour every day is spent by our staff trying to source medicines at a price that won’t put us out of business. Frankly, making a profit at the moment is almost impossible.

‘There is a national scandal in the way that pharmaceuticals are being reimbursed, that’s not an overstatement – people are going to be going broke left, right and centre.

‘We wait for concessionary prices, which are religiously less than what we are paying. Many pharmacies are in business only because of the goodwill of their banks. I’d hate to be one of the younger contractors with significant borrowing.’

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