Medicine shortages continue to dominate pharmacists' working lives, with the first serious shortage protocols (SSPs) issued to mitigate antidepressant shortages last month.

Last week (30 October), it was announced that two of the SSPs were being extended into November due to ongoing supply issues.

Meanwhile, one in four pharmacists have seen medicines shortages lead to patient harm in the past year, according to a recent survey by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA).

But what is NHS England’s latest advice for contractors on managing medicines supply and shortages?

We’ve broken it down into the five steps you should take when you suspect a drug might be short, according to a new guide published by NHS England on Saturday (1 November).


1. Check if the issue has already been reported

First, contractors should check their email or the NHS specialist pharmacy service website to see whether the shortage has already been reported to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) medicines supply team.

If the shortage isn’t listed on the specialist pharmacy service website, contractors should report it to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) via its website.

The PSNC will then let the DHSC medicines supply team know about the issue.


2. Check the management plan

For shortages that are already listed by the specialist pharmacy service, contractors should check the proposed management plan on the website. The information should be shared with local prescribers and patients ‘as appropriate’, the guidance adds.

Contractors should also check the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) website to see whether an SSP is in place. Community pharmacies must dispense in line with the strict boundaries of each protocol – read our frequently asked questions on the SSPs here.


3. Liaise with wholesalers

Next, contractors should check with wholesalers when the medicine is expected to become available and whether any measures have been put in place to manage demand. For example, wholesalers or suppliers may require contractors to send an anonymised copy of the prescription – ie with patient data obscured – to check that it is valid before restricted stock is released to the pharmacy.

Contractors could also contact medicines suppliers for updates on availability and to check whether they could obtain the medicines directly from the supplier.


4. Check with colleagues

If a patient has a prescription for an unavailable medicine, contractors should check whether other local pharmacies have stock of the product. If so, the stock can be transferred or the patient can collect their medicines from the other pharmacy.

Contractors can also liaise with the prescriber to arrange for a new script that is clinically appropriate for the patient to be sent to the pharmacy. Appropriate alternative medicines or brands, strength and formulations of the medicine may be available.


5. Communicate with patients

The guidance is clear that community pharmacies need to keep patients in the loop about any shortage of their medicines.

It says: ‘In all cases of medicines supply issues, community pharmacies should endeavour to communicate any supply issues, relevant information about resupply dates and the proposed management plan clearly with patients.’

Pharmacists should make sure they support patients to take any new medicines correctly ‘where possible’ and explain anything they might need to know, the guidance adds.


How are you coping with stock shortages? Tweet us @Pharmacist_News using the hashtag #WarOnShortages or email our reporter at [email protected]