GPs have warned that patients are suffering undue problems due to shortages of vital medicine.
A major survey conducted by GPOnline suggests that over 80% of doctors were forced to prescribe second-choice drugs due to shortages last year.
While it should be emphasised that this was a relatively small sample of GPs, it does also indicate a statistical significance which suggest that this would be reflected across the NHS as a whole.
Indeed, only 12% of those surveyed indicated that they definitely have not been forced to prescribe a second-choice drug during the previous calendar year.
And 18% of the GPs who had prescribed a second-choice medicine said that patients had gone on to experience negative effects as a result, including harm or slower recovery.
Many respondents expressed a frustration at the existing situation, indicating that it is troublesome for them professionally to deliver what is effectively second-class treatment.
Commenting on the issue, Dr Andrew Green, chairman of the GPC clinical and prescribing subcommittee, asserted that this problem has been known for many years.
“The issue of secure drug supply is an on-going problem that no one has been able to adequately address. Sometimes problems can be very localised, so you can have difficulties in one part of the country and not in others. That makes informing GPs really quite a difficult task to do. That’s an absolutely key issue. The first thing a GP knows about a drug shortage is when a patient returns disgruntled from the community pharmacy saying that the chemist can’t get hold of a particular medicine. And even when that happens, you can’t be sure if it’s a problem that’s widespread or limited instead to that particular pharmacy chain.”
Green also suggested that a new centralised warning system could help ease the problem, but that further action was also needed.
‘I think that GPs would welcome some sort of central system of alerting, but it doesn’t help patients who are on a regular medication. Obviously, if there’s a sudden shortage of one particular cream, then for acute medications you can change it if you know about it. But if someone is on a repeat medication, the inconvenience to the GP and the patient really is quite large. There’s no doubt patients find changes in medication inconvenient, and whenever you change a patient from a medication on which they are settled there’s always a chance of introducing new adverse drug reactions”.