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Just say no to drug (shortage)s

So, just to clarify. At roughly the same moment a nationwide shortage of HRT is declared, we GPs are told that women on this treatment should hear about the latest research on HRT and breast cancer risks at their next routine appointment.

That’s right. We’re encouraged to talk about the pros and cons of HRT, ask them if they want to continue which, obviously, they always do, and finally break it to them that, actually, they can’t, because there isn’t any.

If that’s not enough irony for you, throw into the mix that, simultaneously, we hear there are ongoing contraceptive pill shortages. Hilarious. We have one set of women unable to suppress their hormonal cycle and another thwarted in their attempts to resurrect theirs, a situation clearly begging for an innovator/entrepreneur to set up some sort of oestrogen exchange programme.

In the meantime, we wait for these sodding ‘medication shortages’ to sort themselves out. Younger readers will find this hard to believe, but I actually recall a time when medication shortages didn’t exist, and it wasn’t all that many years ago.

Just like CQC and revalidation, medication shortages have simply become another familiar and steeply uphill part of the GP landscape which we just have to endure

Then, one day, rather like the CQC and revalidation, they were just there. Everyone agreed that, like the CQC and revalidation, they were a complete pain in the arse which no one understood and which made our difficult jobs harder still. And now, just like CQC and revalidation, they have simply become another familiar and steeply uphill part of the GP landscape which we just have to endure.

Frankly, it’s a sign of our oppression and demoralisation that we put up with this drug shortage crap. It’s ridiculous. We spend years refining our history taking, examination skills and investigation techniques with a view to producing precise diagnoses, only to have to spend days fannying around in some prescription lottery because the preferred treatment is mysteriously ‘unavailable’.

It’s getting so bad that maybe we should be told at the beginning of each week what drugs are available, so we can mould our diagnoses accordingly. Failing that, I’d simply ask for someone, somewhere, to tell us GPs what is going on, because I have yet to hear a consistent, rational and reasonable explanation for the drug shortage phenomenon.

Better still, explain it to the patients, preferably as an information leaflet. No, they probably won’t read it. But they could use it as a fan.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs at or follow him on Twitter @doccopperfield