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NHS ‘running short of dozens of life-saving drugs’

Document advises doctors to share medicines and prioritise certain patients

The NHS is running short of dozens of lifesaving medicines including treatments for cancer and heart conditions, reports suggest.

An internal 24-page document circulated to some doctors from the medicine supply team at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) lists 17 new drug shortages including drugs for cancer, Parkinson’s, mental health problems and some eye conditions.

It also identifies ongoing issues with 69 different types and doses of medication including antibiotics for tuberculosis, diamorphine, various cancer drugs, heart condition drugs, Hepatitis vaccines and anti-epilepsy drugs.

The document, seen by the Guardian, told doctors that some patients would have to be prioritised over others for some lifesaving drugs.

In some cases the document recommends breaking tablets in half and in others finding a way to share dwindling supplies.

Dr Nick Mann, a GP in Hackney in London, said the situation is absolutely unprecedented.

“Previously we would have one or two or three drugs that would go offline for a while, but this is something on a different level. It is going to render the day-to-day treatments that doctors provide very difficult,” he warned.

The report described one drug for stomach and pancreatic cancer which has no date for resupply provided by the manufacturer and “no alternative supplies of UK licensed [drugs] … are available to support this gap in supply. You may wish to consider the following as a priority: patients completing a course of treatment and those already booked for surgery.”

For procyclidine, a Parkinson’s drug out of stock until March 2020, the document said that doctors should “consider sharing remaining stock locally with the support of your regional procurement lead”.

For a type of eye drops that are currently unavailable the document stated that the Royal College of Opthalmologists “has provided clinical guidance to support local prioritisation of remaining supplies”.

Dr Tony O’Sullivan, a retired paediatrician and the co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public, said patients and clinicians should be on high alert when the advice includes how to share stocks to make them last, to prioritise patients already on specific treatments over a new patient and how to ration vital drugs.

“Drug companies’ behaviour must be controlled. We must urgently protect the NHS from further risks of loss of control of drug prices and supplies from trade deals with the USA and that requires returning it to a wholly public service,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society told the newspaper that medicine shortages are an increasing problem because of factors such as manufacturing problems, global demand for medicines and fluctuations in the exchange rate.