* Worsening shortages as exports suck out medicines
* Government should consider ways to limit trade
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, May 15 Britain faces a worsening
shortages of medicines because vital supplies are being sucked
out of the country by exporters who can sell them for higher
prices elsewhere, lawmakers said.
The All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) said on Tuesday the
government needed to consider ways to curb this so-called
parallel trade, allowed under European Union rules and which can
distort the distribution of prescription drugs.
Action by drug manufacturers to try to solve the problem by
introducing quotas for drugs in a bid to stop exports has made
the situation worse.
Parallel trade is also a headache for countries such as
Greece where the government has slashed prices for certain
medicines by up to a quarter as part of its austerity drive,
leading to increased exports.
In the case of Britain, exports have been encouraged by a
weak pound, making the country a cheap place for middlemen to
source supplies - in contrast to a few years ago when prices
were relatively high and drugs were imported.
APPG chairman Kevin Barron said there was scope within
European legislation for the government to exempt certain goods
from free movement if there was a threat to public health, and
his group called for government consideration of this.
"The problem of medicines shortages is an extremely serious
one, and our report shows clearly that patients are suffering
harm as a result of not being able to get crucial medicines.
"We have had this problem now for over four years, and the
government has intervened to mitigate shortages on a number of
occasions, with no effect. In fact, the problem is getting
worse, not better," Barron said.
After taking evidence for six months, the APPG said it had
heard from patients with serious conditions such as epilepsy,
schizophrenia and diabetes who had not been able to get drugs
when they needed them. In some cases, people had been
hospitalised as a result of medicine shortages.
Other countries, including France, are now investigating the
possibility of prohibiting the export of medicines. Barron said
"this government needs to urgently look at what they can learn
The APPG also said Britain's healthcare regulator, the
Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, should do
more to address supply problems and consider limiting the growth
in drug wholesaler licences.
While the vast majority of medicines dispensed in Britain
come from a few big players like Celesio and Alliance
Boots, there are some 1,800 licensed wholesalers
engaged in small-scale supply and parallel trade.
The widespread practice of parallel trading in medicines has
long been a bone of contention for big drug companies like
AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer.
Industry critics also say the presence of thousands of small
wholesalers across Europe makes it more difficult to stamp out
trade in counterfeit drugs.