• NHS could face legal action from patients affected by feed shortages
  • DHSC and NHS England accused of not having contingency plan
  • MHRA faces accusations of heavy-handed regulation

The NHS and the national medical regulator could face legal action over the shortage of intravenous feed supplies for hundreds of UK patients, HSJ has learned.

The law firm acting for more than a dozen patients affected by the shortage of feed supplies has confirmed to HSJ it has been instructed to take action against NHS England, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the company responsible for producing the feed, Calea. 

Since June, hundreds of patients who rely on IV feed known as total parenteral nutrition have gone without deliveries of their bespoke feed. More than 40 people have been admitted to hospital as a result.

NHS England has said the shortage is also causing dozens of delayed discharges because patients who need “total parenteral nutrition” cannot be sent home without guarantees they will get what they need.

The NHS has declared a national incident over the shortage and begun importing feed from Germany and Norway.

Dominic Thompson & Co Solicitors said patients affected by the IV feed shortage felt “abandoned” with many “left too weak to speak out”. The firm has written to the health and social care secretary setting out patients’ concerns and is examining why Calea’s processes were not up to MHRA standards but will also look at whether the MHRA was too heavy handed in imposing restrictions on Calea overnight.

The lawyers will also pursue the NHS and DHSC over claims the contingency plan for supply interruptions has proved inadequate.

Lawyer Dominic Thompson told HSJ the firm was in contact with more than 160 Calea patients who were suffering shortages. He said around 18 patients had instructed the firm with another 24 considering joining the group action.

In a statement, the firm said its primary aim was for the TPN feed supply to return to acceptable levels but Calea has warned the shortage could last until the end of the year. It will also be seeking compensation for those suffering “as a result of the negligence and breach of statutory duty that is apparent”.

Mr Thompson told HSJ: “These people feel abandoned. Many have been left too weak to speak out so we’re hoping to act as a spearhead to ensure maximum pressure is applied so this desperate situation is resolved as quickly as possible.

“Our clients are angry about the lack of communication, and the whole system seems chaotic with TPN either failing to be delivered, being delivered at extremely irregular times including in the middle of the night, and often in insufficient amounts. Some patients have reported receiving TPN bags and ancillary kits meant for other patients.

“What is terrifying for people is that there is no end in sight. They were told the issue would be resolved in four weeks but now they are being told it may not be until the end of the year. This is creating nightmare scenarios for hundreds of people and their families and answers are needed now.”

An MHRA spokesman said it was unaware of the action but added: “We fully appreciate the difficulties and disruption that many patients have experienced. At all times our priority has been patient and product safety. We are very clear, that the decisions we have taken were both urgent and necessary to protect patients.”

A Calea spokesman declined to comment.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We have yet to receive the letter, but will consider any correspondence once it has been received.

“Patient safety and care remains our top priority. We continue to work closely with the NHS, the supplier and national experts to resolve this supply issue as quickly as possible and to ensure affected patients continue to receive the nutrition they need.”