Medicines shortages in the UK this year affected 111 products but the outlook for 2024 could be better

Medicine supply issues have increased steadily in the UK and internationally over the past year. Recent data shows that more than 111 products have been affected in the UK alone. This is more than double the figure recorded for 2022.

These supply problems have led to shortages of many products. While the global shortage of Ozempic and Wegovi has received a lot of attention, many other medicines are in short supply in the UK, including medicines used to manage type 2 diabetes, ADHD and menopause symptoms.

These shortages have affected millions of people around the world and in the UK and many have had more difficulty getting their regular prescriptions over the past year.

This may make many people wonder why there was so much drug shortage in 2023 and whether the situation will be similar in 2024.

due to lack

There are four main causes of the current global drug shortage.

The most common cause of drug shortages is manufacturing issues. According to a 2022 report, 60% of global drug shortages were due to manufacturing problems. The same is likely to happen in 2023.

Pharmaceuticals are manufactured as per strictly monitored quality specifications. Thus, developing, expanding and scaling up production are difficult processes. Material shortages and halting drug production to resolve quality issues and technical defects may also contribute to the shortage.

Shortages of many pharmaceutical products this year have also been linked to increased patient demand. This was cited as the primary reason for this year’s shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), the ADHD drugs Ozempic (used to treat diabetes) and Vegovi (which contains the same active ingredient as Ozempic, but is licensed for weight loss). Is. Ozempic is a particularly good example of how a rapid increase in demand can have serious consequences for supply chains.

Ozempic is only licensed to treat type 2 diabetes. But it became popular through social media due to its off-label use to aid weight loss. The increased use of licensed and unlicensed (off-label) had such a significant impact on supply that doctors in many countries were advised not to prescribe the drug to new patients.

It also meant that patients who needed Ozempic couldn’t use it. It even led to increased black market sales and counterfeit products whose safety was questionable.

Excessive demand for Ozempic led to a shortage of the type 2 diabetes drug.
fcm82/Shutterstock

The increase in demand for some products is also due to seasonal factors. An outbreak of strep A last year led to an increase in antibiotic prescriptions. The resulting shortfall persists this year as well.

While protocols were created to authorize pharmacists to use alternative products where necessary, sometimes these measures were not enough. This resulted in the NHS providing guidance on crushing tablets and opening capsules to assist children taking the medicine when the liquid version is not available.

Although it is difficult to correlate the current drug shortage with Brexit, changes to trade agreements between the UK and the EU have caused additional bureaucracy, costs, supplier changes and delays.

In the UK, we rely on just one manufacturer for many medicines, which can be a risky strategy. Alteplase, for example, is the only medicine licensed for the treatment of acute ischemic stroke in the UK and is produced by only one manufacturer. But supplies are running extremely low, which could have a serious impact on patients.

There are concerns that government agreements regarding pricing and supplier taxation (through the Voluntary Scheme for Pricing, Access and Development) could discourage suppliers from trading with the UK. This could lead to fewer suppliers and products in the UK system.

Globally, it is challenging to set affordable prices and provide acceptable returns on investment to manufacturers in many markets.

Some of the supply issues in the UK are also due to a global increase in demand, either due to increased prescriptions for certain medicines or due to increased seasonal infections.

2024 outlook

Action is being taken to manage drug-related disruptions in the UK and Europe. The European Commission has taken several initiatives to reduce shortages in the EU such as requiring suppliers to report shortages earlier, transparency and sharing of stocks between countries and joint procurement strategies. It is unclear whether this will benefit the UK, but stronger supply chains across Europe should be positive for global drug supply.

Some of the supply constraints affecting UK medicines in 2023 will be resolved in 2024. For example, pharmaceutical company Basins, which makes HRT products, has increased its manufacturing capacity after opening a new factory in Spain.

The UK Government is also working with manufacturers to ensure that patients have continued access to ADHD medicines. It’s expected that ADHD medications should be more readily available by April 2024.

Another measure that could help reduce drug shortages is to issue advisory notices about who should or should not be given certain medicines. For example, a national directive was issued advising that patients should not be prescribed Ozempic for weight loss. The approval of Vegovy for weight loss (which contains the same active ingredient as Ozempic) will also help improve Ozempic stock levels, ensuring that patients with type 2 diabetes can access this product.

Creating strategic stockpiles of critical medicines will also help mitigate potential shortages and minimize supply disruptions. This approach has already been adopted by the European Union. This approach is particularly useful for drugs that may see seasonal increases in demand such as liquid antibiotics used for strep A.

We can all also help reduce drug shortages and their impact on the care we receive. Order prescriptions wisely (so don’t order more than you need at one time), take the medicine as prescribed and do not buy from unregulated sources if your regular prescription is not available. It is expected that the steps already taken by the government and suppliers will reduce the shortage in 2024.

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