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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.