An introduction to UK product shortages

Last year saw a rise in the number of drug shortages and as the issue gains more and more traction,  UK ministers are coming under increasing pressure to address the issue. It is reported that in the last 6 months of 2017 alone, drug shortages cost the NHS £180 million.(1) 

Although there are many factors that contribute to UK product shortages some of the main reasons are:

  • Limited Sources - restricted distribution models implemented by some manufacturers can make the market less resilient.

  • Import Costs - Before Brexit proceedings began drugs could be imported cheaply, however due to exchange rates this is no longer a viable option. 

  • Increased Inspections - Regulatory authorities have increased inspections leading to the closure of some manufacturing plants. 

Over the past few years, we as a business we have witnessed a much higher level of shortages in the market resulting in more time being spent on sourcing products. These continued shortages are undoubtedly having an effect on patients and will continue to do so as the EMA’s guidance changes.

In the interest of understanding the extent of the issue, we undertook an annual customer survey with an emphasis on drug shortages*. Our survey revealed that customers were spending (on average) 38% of their working week sourcing as a result of drug shortages, with some respondents spending as much as 50%!(3) Presuming these customers work a standard forty hour working week that would amount to 15.2 hours a week. We understand that working hours vary and that some weeks may produce more shortages than others, but this in itself is worrying. If we use national averages(4)(5) this would mean that drug shortages could cost the NHS in excess of £180 million a year in employee time. 

It is for this reason we, have launched our own searchable, UK Drug Shortages platform that provides information about the latest shortage supply problems and information for Hospital Pharmacies.  We would love to know what you think of our new, free database and would welcome feedback to ensure we are offering the best possible resource for hospital pharmacies.

* The customer survey ran for eight weeks from 13th November 2017 until 12th January 2018. For further information concerning the customer survey please click here.


1. The Times. ‘ Patients hit by shortage of drugs as prices soar’. 2017. [Acessed January 2018] 

2. UL Medicines. ‘2017 in summary’. 2017. [Acessed January 2018] 

3. Burdon. Mark. The Pharmaceutical Journal. ‘Generic shortages: what can be done?’. [Acessed January 2018]  

4. Glass Door. ‘Pharmacy Technician Salaries’. Web. January 2018,19.htm [Acessed January 2018] 

5. Statisa. ‘Number of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in Great Britain from 2013 to 2016’. Web. January 2018