Patients forced into 'pharmacy bingo' - as survey says medicine shortages 'beyond critical'

People are having to play "pharmacy bingo" - going from shop to shop to find stocks - as medicine shortages are worsening, experts have said.

Health leaders say some patients are even having to "ration" their drugs, with a new poll suggesting shortages are a "daily occurrence" for many of England's pharmacies.

Treatments for ADHD, diabetes and epilepsy are among those affected this year, according to trade body Community Pharmacy England.

Its survey of more than 6,000 pharmacies and 2,000 staff found shortages are "wreaking havoc" on patients.

Nearly all (97%) of staff said patients were being inconvenienced, while 79% said health was being put at risk.

Some 98% said they were also giving out more "I owe yous" - where they can only fulfil part of the prescription.

Nearly all (99%) pharmacies reported supply problems at least weekly, and 72% said they were having "multiple issues a day".

Another survey last month, by the Nuffield Trust thinktank, said drug shortages had more than doubled between 2020 and 2023 and that Brexit was likely to "significantly weaken" the UK's ability to deal with the issues.

Shortages have also been a growing problem in Europe and the US in recent years.

However, the UK leaving EU supply chains is said to have added complications such as custom checks at borders and drug makers facing extra regulation.

The falling value of the pound after Brexit has also made it more expensive for the NHS to buy medicines.

Community Pharmacy England boss Janet Morrison said the supply problems were "beyond critical" and had become an "ongoing battle" for pharmacies.

"Patients with a wide range of clinical and therapeutic needs are being affected on a daily basis and this is going far beyond inconvenience, leading to frustration, anxiety and affecting their health," she added.

"For some patients, not having access to the medicines they need could lead to very serious consequences, even leaving them needing to visit A&E."

Ms Morrison said the survey was "yet another stark warning which must not be ignored".

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William Pett from Healthwatch England called it an "ongoing issue that continues to wreak havoc on patients".

"Healthwatch England hears about how shortages can lead to rationing and desperate instances of 'pharmacy bingo', where patients must travel from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for stock," he said.

Paul Rees, head of the National Pharmacy Association, urged the government "to sort out the UK's fragile medicines supply system, so that pharmacies can do their job and patients can get their lifesaving medicines in time".

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "There are around 14,000 licensed medicines and the overwhelming majority are in good supply. Supply issues can arise for a wide range of reasons and are not specific to the UK.

"Our priority is to mitigate risks posed by those issues and to help ensure that patients continue to get the treatments they need. Thankfully most issues can be managed with minimal impact to patients.

"We recognise the vital role pharmacies play in our healthcare system and that's why they are backed by £2.6 billion a year in government funding. Deliberate violence or abuse directed at healthcare staff, is unacceptable and all staff, including pharmacists and their teams, deserve to work in a safe and secure environment."