GPs have been told to re-issue prescriptions to patients left without their medicines due to a major distribution failure at one of the UK’s largest online pharmacies.
Pharmacy2U has said the problem with its distribution of medicines, which has caused an outcry on social media from affected patients over the Christmas holiday period, will last into next week.
NHS England said the first course of action for affected patients should be to contact Pharmacy2U and, as a second resort, request an emergency supply from an alternative pharmacy. However it said failing this, they could ask their GP to re-issue their prescription.
In a letter sent on 23 December, NHS England head of primary care commissioning Dr David Geddes advised GPs, pharmacy staff and NHS 111 call handlers contacted patients to use the EPS tracker to inform patients of their options.
He added: ’If for any reason P2U cannot be contacted the patient could request an emergency supply from any pharmacy. Failing this the patient can consult their GP with regard to the possibility of securing a replacement prescription.’
Pharmacy2U first announced delays with prescription orders in late December, owing to ‘unforeseen, operational difficulties due to our recent move to our new premises’. It said this meant it would ’not be able to deliver any prescriptions requested from 21 December until the week commencing Monday 11 January 2016’.
The company is currently advising patients needing to put in new medicine orders that they will have to wait until Friday to do so.
NHS England said it is working with Pharmacy2U to get in contact with patients via email and telephone, with those unable to wait until 11 January or who cannot be contacted to ‘have their prescriptoin returned to the NHS spine’.
The NHS England letter explained to GPs that ‘patients with an outstanding order are being contacted by email and telephone, those who are unable to wait until January 11th or who cannot be contacted will have their prescription returned to the NHS spine’.
GP leaders told Pulse it was ‘difficult to tell’ as yet what impact the issue has had on GP practices and out-of-hours providers so far.
However Dr Andrew Mimnagh, a GP in Sefton, questioned why GP practices were expected to ‘bail pharmacies out’.
He said: ‘Why is the GP the go-to for pharmacy provider issues – it’s that mentality that if something goes wrong in the NHS the GP sorts it.’
Managing director of Pharmacy2U Daniel Lee said: ‘We apologise that unforeseen difficulties in transferring our prescription dispensing service to our new automated facility led to unexpected delays for some orders.
‘These exceptional circumstances caused our service to fall below its usual high standard and we are extremely sorry for the inconvenience it has caused. The operational issues are now being resolved and our experienced dispensary team is processing delayed orders as quickly as possible.’
The issue has come as GPs are already grappling with switching tens of thousands of patients to an alternative insulin after major shortages with certain products were announced just before Christmas. Meanwhile, chronic ongoing medication supply problems are taking up to an hour a day to sort out, GP leaders have warned.