A pharmacist has urged people in York to re-order prescriptions in plenty of time as the supply of hundreds of drugs is in flux.
The warning comes as patients are finding it increasingly difficult to get certain medications.
One such patient is York resident Bob Jackson. “There is a major shortage of medicines in York and the rest of the country too,” he said.
“If you are on important drugs, for epilepsy, for example, give yourself plenty of time to get a repeat prescription. It could well take much longer than you’d hope and you may have to return to your doctor to change to another, available, medicine.
“I have personally, just gone through this scenario and it wasn’t fun at all. Returning to my doctors twice, to change prescriptions, in order to get something, at least similar to my regular, repeat medication.”
Richard Harrison, director of Citywide Health, which runs seven pharmacies in York, is very familiar with the problem.
“It’s been a problem for more than a year, but is worse than it’s ever been now and there are no signs of it getting better at any point soon,” he said.
“There are 300 different medicines that are either not available, or available at inflated prices, sometimes ten times higher than we would be reimbursed for.”
Stress and anger
Why is it happening? The NHS regularly pushes down the price at which it is willing to buy medication, so that it’s no longer viable to manufacture – causing a dearth in supplies, Richard said.
Supplies of the drug Atorvastatin, designed to help lower cholesterol, have also been particularly scarce. This was caused by the NHS dictating that GPs prescribe more Atorvastatin in order to meet health targets – without ensuring a simultaneous increase in supply.
Prescriptions for Atorvastin increased overnight by 40%, with the increase in demand causing major shortages.
Many patients taking Atorvastatin have been frustrated by this shortage, blaming the pharmacy staff for the inability to obtain this common medicine, when the supply issues are outside their control.
Pharmacists face the added frustration of never knowing when an out–of-stock medication will be available again. All they get told is whether something is in or out of stock.
Richard told YorkMix: “Other shortages have included letrozole, a medicine used to treat breast cancer, and even penicillin.”
Pharmacists don’t have the resources to phone the hundreds of patients who take a drug to tell them it’s out of stock – especially when it could come back into stock the next day.
“Thousands of our patients take Atorvastatin, so it would be a full time job to contact all those patients – we simply don’t have any spare staff to do that. And patients don’t understand that it’s not like Amazon, where you can order something and get it the next day.”
So it means frustrated patients come in with their prescription and leave empty handed. They often vent their stress and anger on the pharmacy teams – even though the problem is not of their making.
Richard said community pharmacists are under huge cost pressures because government funding has not increased since 2015, whilst staff costs of running the pharmacy have increased by 30%.
“This means we’re operating with 70% of the workforce that we’d ideally like. People don’t appreciate the funding pressure that we’re under” he said.
Locally, underfunding has resulted in pharmacies closing their doors. Boots have closed four pharmacies, including their branch in Kings Square which shuts later this month.
Lloyds have sold all their pharmacies in York, and Citywide Health needed to merge their pharmacies in Huntington to survive.
He urged patients to always follow the local guidance and re-order prescriptions when they have two weeks’ supply left. That way, if the medication is out of stock, the patients have time to contact their GP for an alternative.