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Drug delays caused by shortages

PUBLISHED: 10:41 14 July 2009 | UPDATED: 14:24 03 July 2010

CONCERNS have been raised over the delays a growing number of patients face in getting medicines due to a shortage of drugs in Norfolk.

An increasing number of people are struggling to get the medication they need and are being told by GPs and pharmacists that the drugs have run out or they have to wait a few days for fresh supplies.

CONCERNS have been raised over the delays a growing number of patients face in getting medicines due to a shortage of drugs in Norfolk.

An increasing number of people are struggling to get the medication they need and are being told by GPs and pharmacists that the drugs have run out or they have to wait a few days for fresh supplies.

This week the Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee unanimously agreed to write to the House of Commons about the problem, which involves 12 of the country's biggest drug companies.

A number of medicines are affected, including Keppra, an antiseizure medication for epilepsy which is also used as a mood stabiliser for people with bipolar disorder; blood pressure medicine Aprovel; contraceptives Cilest and Evra and schizophrenia drugs Risperdal and Invega.

Patients are being advised “not to panic” while pharmacists are working hard to ensure there is as little disruption to patients as possible.

Yarmouth councillor Shirley Weymouth, who is a member of the committee, called for the item to be discussed urgently at its meeting on Thursday.

She said: “A lot of patients are having problems getting drugs from their pharmacists. One of the most serious cases I am aware of is a transplant patient who needed Progras, the immunosupressant drug.

“Supplies have been much more difficult to obtain. While pharmacists used to get drugs in regular deliveries they are now having to wait longer, especially at weekends.

“This has caused a lot of problems for patients locally and the situation is unacceptable.”

It is believed the situation has arisen because of the steep fall of the pound against the euro. This has encouraged so-called parallel traders to buy medicines in bulk in Britain at a lower cost so they can be exported to Europe for resale at a much higher price.

It means the supply of medicines has been restricted by UK manufacturers who have imposed quotas to stop wholesalers and pharmacies selling drugs abroad.

Tony Dean, executive officer of the Norfolk Local Pharmaceutical Committee said this was of “great concern” to pharmacists in the county.

“This is currently the single biggest issue affecting pharmacists,” he said. “Unfortunately there seems to be no immediate end in sight. The main message we are trying to get across is that patients shouldn't panic. Pharmacists can still get hold of drugs but normal supply routes are not working as well.

“It means there are short delays while pharmacists get the stocks directly from manufacturers. People should never fill their prescriptions out at the last minute anyway but now people should ensure they get their drugs in advance.

All members of the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed the matter needed to be tackled urgently and will be sending a letter to the House of Commons' Health Select Committee in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he was aware of the situation, and is writing to health secretary Andy Burnham to ask what the government is doing to help.

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