Medicines shortages were so bad for parts of 2017 that almost one in 10 items dispensed by pharmacists were affected, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has revealed.

The figures are part of PSNC’s written evidence to a Parliament inquiry that follows a report on NHS spending on generic medicines in primary care.

The report showed that there was an ‘unprecedented rise’ in the number of concessionary price requests caused by ‘significant’ increases in the prices of certain generics.


Medicines spend increase


In its evidence, PSNC said: ‘In 2017, problems with the manufacturing of some medicines led to shortages of many generic medicines in the UK.

‘The problems led to a significant growth in the number of lines for which concessions were granted and, as such, an increase in the proportion of medicines spend that went on those.

‘At its peak, almost one in ten dispensings by pharmacies were affected.’

According to the National Audit Office (NAO), the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) granted on average nine out of 10 PSNC concessionary price requests between April 2017 and March 2018.

PSNC said that in November 2017 it received 3,039 contractors’ reports about medicines pricing or stock problems – 2,893 more than in January that year.

Delays in announcing concession prices over the past few months ‘led to considerable worry for contractors, who were having to purchase medicines at huge cost without any reassurance about what they would be reimbursed for them’, it added.


False information and gossip


Mike Hewitson, owner of two community pharmacies in West Dorset, said in his own written evidence to the inquiry that ‘many stock shortages appear to have been generated by rumours perpetuated by wholesalers who then benefit from rising order volumes and rising prices’.

He added: ‘During the period from September 2017 to March 2018 we [saw] an increase in unexplained stock shortages from wholesalers of all sizes.

‘In many respects, this has become a self-fullfiling prophecy, as many pharmacies have become so bogged down by trying to source medicines they have begun to try and obtain sufficient stock to see themselves through supply shocks by ordering several months of stock at a time, which only makes the situation worse.’