The Government will reiterate its “great concern” to the suppliers of an epilepsy drug that has been affected by shortages, pharmacy minister Seema Kennedy told the House of Commons yesterday (Tuesday May 7).
Ms Kennedy, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for health and social care, was responding to a written query from shadow health minister Justin Madders as to what “recent assessment” Matt Hancock had made of the availability of prescription drugs. Mr Madders asked Ms Kennedy when she could guarantee that Sabril “will be widely available again?”
The shadow minister said his constituents had “real concerns” about the availability of Sabril (vigabatrin), which is manufactured by Sanofi, adding that an assurance from Ms Kennedy that supplies would be accessible from mid-April had subsequently been pushed back to mid-May.
Ms Kennedy responded: “We have expressed our great concern to the suppliers about this problem, and we are working alongside them to ensure that, although there is enough Sabril nationally, we get it in the right place at the right time. We will go back to them and express our concern again.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has “well-established procedures to deal with medicine supply issues” and “works closely with all those involved in the supply chain” to minimise the risk to patients, she said.
According to a May 7 blog post from UK charity Epilepsy Action, Sanofi has said that Sabril tablets “will be back in stock at pharmacists this week”.
Labour MP Julie Cooper said that almost 100 commonly prescribed medicines are “in serious short supply” including painkillers, antibiotics and antidepressants.
Ms Cooper said that while anxieties around Brexit have led to medication stockpiling which has “undoubtedly exacerbated the problem,” she knows "from my own experience in community pharmacy that there have been concerns about the supply chain for several years, long before Brexit was ever dreamed of.”
“The Government has, however, consistently turned a blind eye to these problems, which place additional pressures on GPs and pharmacists and are most certainly detrimental to patient care,” Ms Cooper argued, asking for assurances from Ms Kennedy that the DHSC understands the scale of the problem.
Ms Kennedy replied: “The Department takes this extremely seriously; we have a whole team working on it. There are about 12,500 prescribed medicines in this country, with only between 50 and 100 being looked at by the medicines supply team at any one time.
“There is no cause for complacency, though. In January this year, we took further steps to make it mandatory for pharmaceutical companies to report any supply issues to us as soon as possible.”