Eight in 10 pharmacy team members report that medicine shortages are putting patients’ health at risk, according to a survey by Community Pharmacy England (CPE).

The Pressures Survey, completed by more than 900 pharmacy owners and over 2,000 pharmacy team members, found that medicine supply issues were affecting the majority of pharmacy teams (72%) ‘multiple times a day’.

And two-thirds (60%) of pharmacy team members surveyed said GP practices had to be contacted about supply issues on a daily basis.

Pharmacists quoted in the CPE survey report released today said patients’ health had suffered due to having to switch to other brands, formulations or strength of medicines because of shortages.

‘Some patients went without medication for few days or even weeks causing them difficulties doing their day-to-day activities,’ one pharmacist said.

Medicines shortages are also ‘taking their toll on pharmacy teams’, CPE warned.

More than eight in 10 (84%) pharmacy owners said their team was spending ‘longer than ever before’ sourcing medicines, while a further 10% said they were spending more time procuring medicines than this time last year.

Nine in 10 (91%) pharmacy contractors reported a ‘significant increase’ in medicines supply chain or wholesaler issues compared to last year.

And nearly all (97%) pharmacy team members reported extra workload due medicine supply issues, with 30% saying they spent over two hours a day sourcing medicines.

A further 43% said they spent one to two hours per day obtaining medicines or alternatives, while 20% said they spent one hour each day doing so. Just 7% said they spent less than one hour each day sourcing medicines.

One pharmacist quoted in the report said their team was now using eight suppliers to give themselves ‘the best chance of getting hold of everything’.

Nearly all (97%) pharmacy team members said patients were inconvenienced as a result of medicine supply issues and 98% said they had seen an increase over  the last year in the number of prescriptions that could only be dispensed partially, with patients having to return another time to collect the rest of their items.

Meanwhile, 96% said their team were experiencing more stress due to medicine supply issues, while 84% said medicine supply issues had led to patient aggression in their pharmacy.

Last year's Pressures Survey also saw 84% of respondents reporting that medicine supply issues had caused patient aggression – up from 75% in 2022.

One independent community pharmacy owner in the North East of England and CPE committee member Fin McCaul said the team were ‘walking on eggshells’ around potentially annoyed and angry patients, with staff members ‘regularly’ in tears by the end of the day ‘because of the sheer pressure of it all’.

Following its survey and report, the community pharmacy negotiator has called for a ‘full review of the medicines supply market’, including addressing issues such as under-funding and price concessions.

And it said short-term measures to alleviate supply issues should be introduced, including allowing pharmacists to make minor adjustments to prescriptions.

CPE also called for a review of medicines margin and said: ‘Around 30% of pharmacies’ NHS funding is delivered through margin they are allowed to make on medicines purchases: this incentivises effective purchasing saving millions of pounds for the NHS.

'But in the UK’s low-price environment, the supply chain is now struggling to operate effectively. A full review is needed which may lead to developments such as benefit sharing and relief mechanisms.’

Responding to the report, Janet Morrison, CPE chief executive, described medicine shortages as ‘beyond critical’.

‘Patients with a wide range of clinical and therapeutic needs are being affected on a daily basis and this is going far beyond inconvenience, leading to frustration, anxiety and affecting their health. For some patients, not having access to the medicines they need could lead to very serious consequences, even leaving them needing to visit A&E,’ she said.

And she described pharmacy teams’ efforts to ensure access to medicines as ‘an ongoing battle’ that puts ‘immense pressures on pharmacy teams and businesses’.

‘They are doing everything that they can to find solutions for all their patients, but powerless as they are to resolve national and even global supply issues, they are being forced to operate with one hand tied behind their back.’

Ms Morrison added: ‘Our findings make distressing reading, and they should be ringing alarm bells for anybody interested in protecting the health and wellbeing of local communities and the public. We’ve been warning for some time that these issues must be resolved, and this evidence provides yet another stark warning which must not be ignored.’

Almost half (42%) of people recently surveyed by Healthwatch England experienced problems getting medicine from their pharmacy in the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, a report published last month by independent health think tank the Nuffield Trust warned that medicines shortages across the UK have become a ‘new normal’ that has placed a ‘significant burden’ on pharmacists.

And the Independent Pharmacies Association (IPA, formerly AIMp) recently joined health charities to warn the government that unless there is ‘greater openness’ with drug manufacturers, supply chain issues and medicine shortages will put people’s health at risk.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), described CPE's findings as 'alarming', suggesting that the government's 'continual push to drive down the price paid for medicines' was 'likely adding to the number of shortages and demonstrably affecting patient access to medicines'.

'We urgently need a wholesale review of the medicines supply market to ensure it is fit for purpose,' he said.

'We also need an uplift in retained margin which has not been reviewed since 2014/15, despite significant increases in the volume and price of medicines procured. Ultimately without action, medicine shortages will continue to rise.'

Responding to the CPE report, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:

he'Tre are around 14,000 licensed medicines and the overwhelming majority are in good supply. Supply issues can arise for a wide range of reasons and are not specific to the UK.

'Our priority is to mitigate risks posed by those issues and to help ensure that patients continue to get the treatments they need. Thankfully most issues can be managed with minimal impact to patients.

'We recognise the vital role pharmacies play in our healthcare system and that’s why they are backed by £2.6 billion a year in government funding. Deliberate violence or abuse directed at healthcare staff, is unacceptable and all staff, including pharmacists and their teams, deserve to work in a safe and secure environment.'