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Two thirds of primary care workers predict Brexit will make medicines shortages worse, report reveals

Two thirds of primary care workers predict Brexit will make medicines shortages worse, report reveals
By Beth Kennedy
27 March 2019

Almost two thirds of primary care workers have predicted that Britain’s exit from the EU will make medicines shortages worse, according to a new report by Healthcare Leader publisher Cogora.

The Primary Concerns 2018: The State of Primary Care report highlights a sector already struggling to cope with sourcing adequate medicines supply.

A clear majority, 64%, of the more than 2,300 GPs, practice managers, nurses, pharmacists and healthcare assistants surveyed expressed strong concerns that Brexit would make medicines less easily available. More than half, 54%, thought it would lead to community pharmacies stockpiling medicines.

The worrying findings are presented in Cogora’s sixth Primary Concerns report, which provides an insight into the current state of the sector from the healthcare professionals who know it best.

One GP partner drew attention to the fact that a shortage of medicines is not a problem uniquely linked to Brexit. He said:

‘We have been experiencing problems with availability of medicines long before Brexit – it’s been so bad already that I am not sure it could possibly get much worse.’

The survey of the readers of Cogora’s five primary care publications: Healthcare Leader, Pulse, Management in Practice, Nursing in Practice and The Pharmacist reinforce this point of view – indicating that medicines shortages plagued primary care throughout 2018.

Almost 99% of the employee, superintendent and contractor pharmacists surveyed said they had been bit by shortages in 2018, with 82% saying these had been a ‘major’ concern.

The financial impact of shortages was particularly worrying, with 80% of contractors and superintendents estimating losses due to shortages since summer 2017 in excess of £1,000 per month. One in four (41%) of all respondents in the same group had lost more than £5,000 per month.

At the end of 2018 when the survey was conducted, the UK had already begun experiencing shortages of certain medications.

By October 2018, 45 drugs had become so scarce that the Department of Health and Social Care resorted to paying more for them to improve continuity of supply. By January 2019, there were 80 medicines on that list.

Shortages are certainly taking their toll on pharmacists and other primary care professionals, with one pharmacist respondent saying:

‘Patients see it as my fault. [I experience] hassle with GPs as we have to request alternatives. [Shortages cause] distress for the GPs as one was literally in tears when they did not know what to do when we couldn’t get venlafaxine.’

Aside from the stress caused by shortage-related cash flow issues, pharmacists are also facing additional workplace pressures as a result of the time they must spend sourcing out-of-stock medicines from drug wholesalers.

Contractor and superintendent pharmacists reported that they spent an average of 175 minutes per week – nearly three hours – sourcing alternatives for unavailable medicines.

Almost all, 95%, of pharmacist respondents said medicines shortages had added to their workload in 2018.

One respondent said it was ‘extremely difficult to provide first-class patient care when we are constantly on the phone for hours trying to obtain stock’.

It is expected that a no-deal Brexit could make medicines shortages much worse due to disruption of the supply chain if imports on the Dover-Calais crossing face delays.

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