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The NHS is facing shortages of some important drugs used to relieve pain and treat cancer
The NHS is running low on some key drugs used to treat cancer and other diseases. The alternatives can cost more money and provide less effective treatment. Last year nine out of 10 GPs said they had been forced to write prescriptions for “second choice” medicines because their preferred drug was out of stock.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, Margaret McCartney, a GP in Glasgow said shortages “harm patients directly” and put pressure on primary care.
Dr McCartney said: “Instability of basic drug supplies is an avoidable pressure, one being absorbed (as usual) by general practice.
“A combined total of 5% of my latest day on call was spent trying to fix prescription supply problems, one by tedious one.”
One drug that is in short supply is the BCG vaccine, used to treat bladder cancer. It can prevent cancer from returning and reduce the risk of it becoming invasive.
Since a Canadian factory stopped production in 2012, more patients have been forced to undergo a removal of the bladder because they cannot be treated with the drug.
Some such patients will go on to wear a urostomy bag, or plastic bladder, outside their bodies for the rest of their lives. Faced with the shortage, doctors are having to give patients just one third of the dose normally recommended. Bladder cancer is the seventh most common cancer in the UK, with 10,000 pepole diagnosed with the disease every year.
Another drug in short supply is clonazepam, which is used for both epilepsy treatment and to relieve pain in palliative care. The cost has risen since since manufacturer Roche discontinued supplies to the UK because of profitability and low demand. The drug now has to be imported from abroad at a higher cost.
Ashgate Hospice in Chesterfield told the BBC they have had to cut back on the use of the injectable drug by 80 per cent because the price has risen from 67p a vial to £33. The shortage is likely to mean more pain for patients struggling with terminal illnesses at the end of their life.
What more could the Government do?
Some argue that the Department of Health’s emphasis on pushing down costs puts more pressure on drug availability. According to the British Generic Manufacturers Association, the Department of Health drives a hard bargain, meaning fewer companies choose to tender for contracts. As a result, supplies can run short if a problem occurs.
In some instances, the NHS could look to alternative treatments which could be licensed in the UK to fill the gap from an unavailable drug. The Department of Health said: “We work closely with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, NHS England, the pharmaceutical industry and others in the supply chain to help prevent medicine shortages and to minimise the risk to patients on the rare occasions that issues do arise.”
By: Sophie Jamieson
Source: The Telegraph