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Government report recommends breaking some tablets in half amid drug shortages

A document leaked from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has revealed that some medicines might need to be cut in half due to a shortage of 86 drugs. 

The internal 24-page document, circulated late last week to certain doctors by the DHSC’s medicine supply team, said some patients would have to be prioritised over others, and in some cases, the document recommended breaking tablets in half or finding ways of sharing supplies. 

The document also stated that unlicensed versions might be imported, according to The Guardian, but there was no indication around when this may happen.

GPs have called for 'urgent measures' to be put in place to ensure patients get the care they need. 

The document listed 17 new drug shortages, including for cancer, Parkinson’s disease and mental health conditions, and emphasised the ongoing shortages of 69 others, including antibiotics, hepatitis vaccines and anti-epilepsy drugs.

The document said: 

  • Certain anti-epilepsy drugs will be out of stock until March 2020;
  • Two suppliers of tuberculosis medication are out of stock, with a third ‘unable to support any uplift in demand’;
  • There is ‘insufficient stock’ of diamorphine to meet both primary and secondary care demand;
  • The sole supplier of cyanide poisoning drug was also reported to be undergoing long-term out-of-stock issues;
  • The type and frequency of dose may also need to be changed for dementia patients.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, executive team member at the BMA’s GP Committee, said: ‘Drug shortages can happen for a variety of reasons, and while Brexit may or may not be playing a part, they are undoubtedly getting worse.

‘GPs often only know about shortages once a patient returns from the pharmacy needing an alternative prescription, which can not only add to our already crippling workload, but also, and most worryingly, delay patients’ treatment.

‘In these situations, GPs will issue a generic prescription for a pharmacist to see what they have in stock and is best suited to the patient, but this can lead to a rise in costs across the health service, and alternative drugs might not have the same desired effect as their normal medication.'

He added: ‘It’s clear that drug shortages are fast-becoming a daily frustration for both GPs and their patients, which is why we urgently need measures put in place to ensure communities across the country continue to get the care they need and deserve.’ 

Last month saw the Government issue its first serious shortage protocol to combat the issue, allowing pharmacists to change the formulation of the antidepressant fluoxetine on prescriptions, without first consulting a GP

In summer, £434m was allocated to stockpiling and freight capacity in order to prevent drugs shortages in the case of a no-deal Brexit, while Pulse’s recent analysis shone the spotlight on how GPs are being left to negate the consequences of drug shortages during patient consultations.

DHSC has been approached for comment. 

Readers' comments (8)

  • That this is not headline news says all you need to know about the state of things in the UK right now. Please form an orderly queue for Heathrow. Come back if and when the adults resume control.

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  • The government will not care no thanks to the one sided block contracts. GP time costs nothing. Just keep piling work for them.
    We have been wasting time for years changing drugs.
    BMA take us all out and go the dentist way and we won't have to deal with this as bulk changes and prescribing advisers will not happen.

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  • wow. breaking tablets in half. i wonder how much they got paid to come up with that ha ha. wonder if theyll think of taking 2 together as well

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  • Government report recommends that GP's should be broken in half.

    A spokesman for NHS England said, 'we're very excited about this policy which will double the amount of patients who can see a GP'. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and all the evidence shows that this will be a great success.

    The BMA negotiating committee have written a strongly worded letter.

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  • Forget breaking them in half - dissolve the last fluoxetine tablet in millions of litres and then distribute. Should work fine if taken with absolute conviction and consistent with the evidence based approach from this administration.

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  • Took Early Retirement

    I thought the primary duty of ANY government is to do its best to protect the People.

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  • Bet the can count to twenty one with their clothes off as well ffs.

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  • Break any tablet in half or any SR/MR preparations and the risks are yours. No thanks. If the sudden release of drugs(BP tabs etc) causes a cardiac even etc and the patient dies, Gross Negligence Manslaughter charges. Far better to do nothing. It is not our fault anyway. Why should we take on even more risks?

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