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Medicine shortages cause ‘moral distress’ for three-in-four GPs

Medicine shortages cause ‘moral distress’ for three-in-four GPs

Three quarters (74%) of GPs experience moral distress because they are unable to prescribe medicines patients need due to ongoing shortages.

This is the finding of a survey carried out by indemnity provider MDDUS, which also found almost a third of this group (30%) suffer moral distress every day at work; and 37% several times a week.

Worryingly, nearly half (45%) reported that they have seen patients’ health deteriorate as a result of medicine shortages. Almost nine-in-ten GPs believe the shortage of prescription medicine is severely hampering their ability to practice safely.

More than a third (36%) of respondents said that medicine shortages worsened in 2024, with over four-in-five (83%) saying there was ‘a lack of guidance on how to advise patients about the shortages’, including ‘timescales for when the medicine they need will become available’.

Over nine in 10 GPs (94%) said their workload has increased due to the medicine shortage and more than half (53%) said they were ‘concerned about the risk of a complaint or claim against them or their practice’.

The situation is also adding flame to the fire of ongoing issues with patient aggression towards GPs, the defence organisation warned. Nearly three quarters (74%) of GPs, reported having to deal with anger or aggression from patients who could not get the first-line medication they want.

One in four (25%) of GPs said they were ‘anxious about coming to work’ because they may be unable to prescribe the medication patients need; and nearly a third (30%) were anxious about having to deal with anger and aggression as a result.

The drugs most affected by shortages, according to the survey, were hormone replacement therapy including oestrogens, progestogens and testosterone (86%), diabetes medicines (GLP-1 RAs such as Ozempic) (80%), epilepsy medicines (42%) and cardiac medicines (30%).

Last week, new analysis revealed that more than three times as many serious shortage protocols (SSPs) were issued in the UK in the two-year period between 2022 and 2024, compared with 2020 to 2022.

One GP said: ‘It is very demoralising working as hard as we can but still being unable to meet patients’ needs due to constraints outside of our control.

‘It makes workdays harder than necessary and mentally exhausting.’

Another GP said: ‘It makes you second guess yourself frequently. Clinical decisions are now being influenced by this lack of medications which leads to increased sense of worry.’

In April, a report from the Nuffield Trust concluded that regular shortages of life-saving medicines had become the new normal in the UK.

While issues with supply chains were a global problem, Brexit had made the problem harder for the UK to tackle, it found.

MDDUS said it wants governments across the UK to urgently investigate ‘better, more compassionate ways for pressurised medics to seek wellbeing help and speak out about their mental health concerns’.

Dr John Holden, chief medical officer at MDDUS, said: ‘We hear regularly from doctors about the enormous pressures they face every day in the NHS, but the crisis around medicine shortages is making things even worse.

‘It is not uncommon for doctors to contact us when they feel they’re at the very edge of their ability to cope with these pressures.

‘Our survey shows these ongoing shortages are leading to a significant number of GPs questioning whether they want to continue in their role at a time when the NHS needs to retain as many doctors as possible to cope with demand.

‘It is also disturbing to see how many GPs are suffering from professional and personal moral distress because they feel they’re failing their patients by being unable to access the medicine they know is necessary.

‘Regardless of which party forms the government after the general election, the incoming health secretary must urgently prioritise NHS workforce issues – including practitioners’ own mental health and wellbeing – as they get to grips with their new job.’

The MDDUS survey found that:

  • 74% of GPs experience moral distress at work due to the impact of medicine shortages
  • Of this group, 30% suffer moral distress every day at work, and a further 37% suffer it several times a week
  • 45% reported seeing patients’ health deteriorate due to medicine shortages
  • 74% reported having to deal with anger or aggression from patients who could not get the first line medication they want
  • 25% said they were anxious about coming to work and being unable to prescribe the medication patients need
  • 30% said they were anxious about coming to work knowing some patients might be angry or aggression when they can’t be prescribed medication they need


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