The UK is currently facing an unprecedented shortage of vital medicines that is putting patients’ lives at risk across the country. Pharmacists have warned that the situation has reached crisis levels, with lives being endangered on a daily basis.
Widespread Shortages Leading to Rationing and Scramble for Medicines
According to recent reports, shortages are now affecting a wide range of medicines including common painkillers, antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and cancer treatments . This has forced many pharmacies and hospitals to ration supplies, prioritizing the most vulnerable patients. Patients are also finding their prescriptions swapped for alternate treatments which may not suit them as well .
Some key examples of shortages highlighted in the media include:
- Hormone replacement gel used to treat menopausal symptoms 
- Antidepressants including popular SSRI fluoxetine 
- Adrenaline auto-injectors used to treat severe allergic reactions 
- Common painkillers like ibuprofen and paracetamol 
- Medications to treat heart conditions, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes 
This has led to a desperate scramble for medicines up and down the country, with some pharmacies reporting aggressive and even violent behavior from patients desperately trying to get hold of treatments .
Brexit and COVID-19 Blamed for Shortages Crisis
The shortages have been driven by a perfect storm of factors, with Brexit trade barriers and COVID-19 supply chain issues taking much of the blame.
Industry experts say complex customs procedures and border checks post-Brexit have caused delays and disruption to medicine imports from the EU . Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many drug manufacturers to shut down or scale back production for long periods. This reduced reserves that might otherwise have helped bridge supply issues.
Other factors such as rising global demand, climate events affecting ingredient supplies, and pricing disputes have added further pressure .
|Trade barriers and border checks causing import delays from EU
|Manufacturing shutdowns depleted medicine reserves
|Increasing global demand
|Outstripping supply capabilities
|Hurting ingredient supplies
|Limiting availability of some medicines
Lives Endangered Daily According to Pharmacists
The crisis has reached such extreme levels that community pharmacists are now saying it is endangering lives every single day.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society director Thorrun Govind has said “Pharmacists are struggling to obtain the very basic, common medicines that people need on a daily basis – it’s affecting every community pharmacy across the country.” 
Another pharmacist reports “We are firefighting every day and responding on an hourly basis to sort out problems with people’s prescriptions… It’s extremely stressful and it’s unsustainable. It’s the worst it’s ever been.” 
There is frustration that repeated warnings over months and years from healthcare bodies have gone unheeded by policymakers. One hospital department director has said the crisis “has been foreseeable and foreseen by those of us working in the field.” 
Calls for Government Action as Situation Predicted to Worsen
Healthcare leaders are urgently calling for action from the government to get the situation under control. Recommendations include simplifying customs processes, improving supply chain transparency, diversifying ingredient sourcing, providing excess stockpiles, and temporarily subsidizing manufacturers.
However, the Department of Health has said there are no plans to ease Brexit border controls. Some analysts believe the restriction of medicine supplies could even be used as a bargaining chip in ongoing EU negotiations .
With no government intervention imminent and the problem poised to escalate further, pharmacists have said they fear medicine shortages will lead to higher numbers of patients becoming seriously ill or even dying unnecessarily over the coming year .
The situation across the UK remains on a crisis footing, with lives hanging in the balance.
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