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Norfolk patients medicine fears

PUBLISHED: 11:59 13 October 2009 | UPDATED: 15:18 03 July 2010

Patients in parts of Norfolk are still struggling to get certain medicines due to a shortage of drugs, despite the government saying it is “monitoring” the situation.

Patients in parts of Norfolk are still struggling to get certain medicines due to a shortage of drugs, despite the government saying it is “monitoring” the situation.

Concerns were raised earlier this year over delays people faced in getting drugs, with many being told by GPs and pharmacists that the drugs have run out or they are waiting for fresh supplies.

Norfolk's 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.

It has since received a letter from the Department of Health claiming it is aware of issues affecting the supply of medicines and is in regular contact with pharmaceutical companies.

But health campaigners said this was becoming a “real issue”, especially in parts of rural Norfolk.

Patrick Thompson, from Norfolk's health watchdog, the Local Involvement Network (LINk), said: “There are some patients who can't get the drugs they need, which is a real problem for people with long-term conditions. I am pleased we have a response from the Department of Health but it really needs monitoring properly.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “This is a problem across the country and there are issues with manufacturing that need to be addressed. I know patients who suffer from serious conditions, who have to wait to get their medication and this is just not acceptable.”

A number of medicines are affected including Keppra, an anti-seizure 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.

It is believed the situation has arisen because of the steep fall of the pound against the euro, which 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.

Ian Small, NHS Norfolk's deputy director of prescribing, confirmed that some pharmacies and dispensaries in Norfolk have had difficulty supplying some medications - a situation which is affecting the whole of the UK.

But he added the shortages of various medications were not usually the fault of local pharmacists, who were trying their best to dispense the prescription as quickly as possible.

He said there was currently a shortage in supply affecting about 6pc of drugs nationally and explained that because of the current situation, some drug manufacturers have been imposing quotas on the size of medicine orders which a UK pharmacy can make to prevent their selling excess medicines in Europe.

“The backlash of this quota system is that if a pharmacy has a sudden increase in the use of a particular drug, they sometimes are unable to order enough medication,” he

said.

“While this is a concern locally, on a national level the government is working with drug suppliers to ensure that the disruption to supplies is rectified as soon as possible. Patients can be reassured that many drugs have suitable substitutes.”

The drug shortage and letter from the Department of Health will be discussed at the Norfolk Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting which will be held on Thursday at 10am in the Edwards Room in County Hall, Norwich.


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