Some pharmacies in London may request additional drug supplies during the Olympics only to sell them off overseas for profit, it has been claimed.
The claim was made by a pharmaceutical company – which has not been identified – in response to a request from NHS London for additional supplies around the games.
NHS London requested in a letter to pharma companies that they lift their quotas on the amount of medicines they will supply for more than 700 pharmacies in the capital.
The strategic health authority believes they will experience problems receiving deliveries during the games because of traffic disruption, so will need to order larger deliveries before the games, on quieter days during the games, and afterwards to restock.
The NHS London letter to firms says: “One barrier that many pharmacies have identified to planning effectively for this period is the potential impact of quotas.” It requests the quotas be lifted from July to September, “on the basis that some pharmacies will be requiring increased stock before the games start, and also after the games has finished”.
Quotas have been introduced nationally in response to concerns that customers – both community pharmacies and hospitals – are selling drugs in other EU countries for profit, resulting in shortages in the UK. The shortages have been the subject of several parliamentary inquiries and reports.
A reply from a drug company – leaked to HSJ in an anonymised form – says the company will “fully comply” with the request.
But it highlights recent concerns that “UK patients have been denied access [to drugs they need] largely as a result of wholesalers and pharmacists exporting medicines for profit”. It says: “We have been able to establish much of the export trade is from pharmacists who have wholesale dealer licences.
“Unfortunately a large number of these pharmacists are in east London.
“We are concerned that these pharmacists take advantage of any relaxation of the quotas and stockpile medicines during the Olympics for export afterwards. We believe this may result in shortages occurring thereafter… we do feel it would be appropriate if either these traders could have the [wholesale dealer licences] temporarily suspended or failing that they could be warned of serious consequences should they export pharmaceuticals as a result of relaxed quotas.”
It is understood thought no licence suspensions have been agreed.
Leslie Galloway, chair of the Ethical Medicines Industry Group, which represents small and medium sized pharmaceutical companies and has been involved in co-ordinating the discussions, told HSJ the company’s request to suspend WDLs had been reached “from a perspective of frustration” with the overseas wholesale.
He said: “The industry has a real problem on its hands. Certain pharmacies are doing this and the industry has been forced to introduce quotas to ensure they don’t run out of stock that will be needed by UK patients.”
An NHS London spokesman said in a statement: “Our aim is to ensure supplies are maintained during the games period whilst avoiding medicine shortages occurring as a result of wholesale exports.
“We are currently in discussion with the [Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry] and the Department of Health in order to seek solutions and will be contacting pharmacies shortly following these discussions.”