Report: Patients suffer from medicine shortages throughout EU


Europe has experienced drug shortages during the crisis. [Shutterstock]

A new report on medicines shortages experienced in European healthcare systems published on Monday (17 November) by the European Association of Hospital Pharmacists (EAHP) reveals that over 86% of hospital pharmacists are experiencing difficulties in sourcing medicines in the EU.

The EAHP surveyed the experiences of over 600 hospital pharmacists in 36 European countries. Its report presents a gloomy picture of how medicines shortages are affecting the treatment of patients across the continent.

75% of surveyed hospital pharmacists either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “medicines shortages in my hospital are having a negative impact on patient care”. 66% said they experienced medicines shortages as a daily or weekly problem. The top affected areas are medicines to fight infection, cancer drugs and anesthetics.

The EAHP said that the consequences for patients included delayed or interrupted chemotherapy treatment, unnecessary experience by patients of side effects, heightened clostridium difficile risk and deterioration in patients’ conditions.

“Two things always shock me about the medicines shortages problem in Europe: its scale, and the known impacts it is having on patient safety and welfare,” said Roberto Frontini, the EAHP’s president, at the launch the report at the Brussels Press Club.

“For too long this problem has been brushed under the carpet. It is time for those with responsibility for protecting European citizens from cross-border health threats to address the issue.”

François Houÿez, of Rare Diseases Europe, called for calculations on what it is costing societies to have medicines shortages. Meanwhile, he said, sometimes one member state would be stuck with the last supply one medicine, but without telling other member states or knowing what the needs for medicines are in other countries.

“We think there should be better coordination. There should be a system which evaluates how much of a product is available and a delivery chain so that patients’ needs are served,” Houÿez said.

Frontini agreed the EU needs an improved system to record of information about the problem. This could be addressed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) developing a database of medicines in shortage across Europe replicating that of its counterpart in the USA. We need criteria for a fair distribution in case of shortages based on patient’s needs and not on commercial interests. Finally, we need an urgent sense of responsibility to be adopted by the European Commission in leading both investigation and resolution of the problem.

A shortage of a specific medicine can have a differing severity on the pharmacy service and the treatment of the patient. Medicines with unreliable supply for months or even years can dramatically affect the treatment of a particular patient or the operation of a hospital pharmacy service.

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