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Healthcare

Industry blames price gap for UK drug shortages

* Medicine exports jump due to low prices and weak pound

* Surge in emergency deliveries to pharmacies to plug gap

LONDON, Aug 25 (Reuters) - A widening price gap, fuelled by a weak pound, is behind the current shortage of some medicines in Britain as more drugs are exported by middlemen for profit, the pharmaceutical industry said on Tuesday.

Pharmacies up and down the country have recently reported worsening problems in securing supplies of dozens of prescription medicines because of the lucrative export trade.

The problem is reflected in a surge in emergency deliveries by drugmakers to pharmacies to plug the supply gap.

There were 77,020 emergency shipments in the first five months of this year by three major manufacturers, up from just 6,134 in the same period of 2008, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said.

Industry figures suggest there should be more than enough supply in Britain to meet demand, but sharply lower prices are sucking medicines out of the country.

“This pricing discrepancy and the change in the exchange rate have created a financial incentive for either wholesalers, pharmacies or dispensing doctors to order extra medicines and sell them overseas for a quick profit,” the ABPI said.

The trade -- known as parallel exporting -- is legal under European Union law but has long been condemned by drugmakers.

In the past, British drugmakers have complained about cheap parallel imports flooding into the country.

The ABPI said research by consultancy IMS Health showed 11 percent of Britain’s 12,600 pharmacies and a tiny number of dispensing doctors were engaged in parallel trade worth an estimated 30 million pounds ($49 million) a month. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Holmes) ($1=.6103 Pound)

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