NHS alert: Record drug shortages –medicines running low across the UK

Man holding pills

There have been record drug shortages

Sarra Gray

By Sarra Gray

Published: 08/11/2023

- 10:32

Updated: 15/01/2024

- 11:49

Britons could face issues getting hold of common medicines amid national shortages

Pharmaceutical companies are giving Britain fewer medicines due to disputes over high NHS taxes.

The country is facing the worst supply issues on record, with 111 products facing supply problems, according to experts.

Some 55 of the drugs facing issues are classed as generic drugs, the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) stated.

The drugs thought to be facing the biggest shortages include: epilepsy, ADHD, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), contraceptives, acne treatments and mental health medicines.

Medicine in shelves

Some medicines could be at risk


The BGMA said the NHS drugs levy was behind the supply issues. Pharmaceutical companies were discouraged from supplying the NHS, as they were forced to pay more.

The NHS's Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines Pricing and Access (VPAS) saw pharmaceutical companies agree to help subsidise the cost of drug bills if it increases by more than two per cent.

However, reports have found the companies have been left paying much more.

They have gone from paying £563million in NHS sales in 2021, to more than £3billion this year, according to reports.

Chief executive of the BGMA Mark Samuels said: "There is a finite supply of medicines and companies are being forced to allocate their supplies to other countries where tax regimes are less punitive.”

However, the Department for Health and Social Care disputed the high shortage figures and costs.

A spokesperson said: “We don’t recognise this figure and have seen no convincing evidence of higher payment percentages leading to supply issues, given available mitigations.

“The current voluntary scheme is expected to save the NHS £7billion by the end of this year – delivering value for money for the taxpayer, while enabling investment for NHS services and supporting innovation and a successful life sciences industry in the UK.

Pills in hand

Experts suggested this is the result of a NHS levy


“We remain committed to negotiating a successor scheme that supports better patient outcomes and a strong UK life sciences industry, while delivering value for money the taxpayer and a sustainable medicine bill for the NHS.”

The NHS added the shortages are not just in the UK and are caused by lots of diferent factors.

An NHS England spokesperson added: “There is no evidence of a causal relationship between the current UK VPAS and the continuity of medicines supply, with processes already in place for manufacturers to apply for price increases as appropriate.

“Interruptions to medicines supplies are not specific to the UK, but are caused by many factors from complex global manufacturing and supply chains."

This comes as a "remarkable" new pill that slashes breast cancer risk has been offered to nearly 300,000 women.

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