Russell Brown’s letter to Andrew Lansley and Nicola Sturgeon calling for action to tackle medicines supply shortages is welcome. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has been calling for a solution too.
The number of wholesalers and pharmacists selling medicines intended for NHS patients to other countries because they can make more money, is small. But this minority cause problems for everyone – from patients to manufacturers, to wholesalers and pharmacists who are not playing the system.
Parallel trade – as it is known – is completely legal but because the UK has amongst the lowest medicines prices in Europe, some people downstream from manufacturers exploit the system and it is UK patients who suffer.
The MHRA has argued that medicines cannot and should not be treated as just another commercial commodity. We agree – this is people’s health at stake, and some of the medicines affected by shortages are treatments for life threatening diseases.
It is important to remember that under EU legislation, everyone in the supply chain has a legal obligation to ensure the supply of sufficient medicines to meet predicted and real NHS need. Our members already supply more stock than is prescribed in the UK.
In this country, we have about 1800 wholesalers’ dealer licences, much more than the vast majority of other countries. It is clear we have too many wholesalers for the MHRA to reasonably police which is why we have called for action to reduce the number of licences and ensure NHS patients get the medicines intended for them.