There are medicine shortages in pharmacies across the UK, due to a sharp increase in parallel exports, as a result of current exchange rates.
In a survey of 150 community pharmacies, compiled by Chemist and Druggist in August 2009, nearly a third of respondents claimed patients had suffered because of delays in accessing medicines, while 89% said they were “very concerned” and 11% had “some concern” that patients would be affected.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said that three pharmaceutical companies had been forced to arrange 77,020 shipments for the UK in January to May this year because of supply shortages, whereas in the same period in 2008 this amounted to just 6,134 cases.
Historically, drug prices in the UK have been comparatively high, and the country was often a destination for parallel imports from countries with lower prices, such as Greece and Spain. However, the weakening British pound against the euro has meant that prices of medicines have fallen and are now being exported to other EU countries.
The ABPI has put together a ‘watch list’ of 24 prescription drugs which pharmacies are having difficulties obtaining. However, manufacturers of these drugs have said that they provided more than enough to treat patients across the UK. For example, Novartis provided 65% more of Myfortic, a drug which prevents rejection in kidney transplant patients, than was required for patients in the UK, suggesting that much of it is being diverted for sale abroad.
Further reading - A detailed analysis of the UK pharmaceutical market, including some background information on parallel importing and exporting in the country, is available from Espicom: The Pharmaceutical Market: United Kingdom (published June 2009)