Patients deprived of life-saving drugs, Stevenage woman discovers

LIFE-SAVING drugs are being sold overseas for profit by pharmacists, causing a supply crisis in the UK and jeopardising patient care. Drugs used to prevent the rejection of organ transplants, to prevent blood clots, and to treat schizophrenia are among th

LIFE-SAVING drugs are being sold overseas for profit by pharmacists, causing a supply crisis in the UK and jeopardising patient care.

Drugs used to prevent the rejection of organ transplants, to prevent blood clots, and to treat schizophrenia are among those in short supply.

The serious problem came to light in Comet country when Jane Pallister, of Baron Court in Stevenage, tried to get hold of the breast cancer drug Letrozole.

Surgery for the 55-year-old cancer sufferer is too risky because she has previously had cardiac arrests, so Ms Pallister is reliant on Letrozole to reduce the size of the tumour.


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She was given a supply of the drug by Lister Hospital in Stevenage and told to visit her pharmacist for repeat prescriptions.

"Within about two weeks I had a few tablets left so I got in touch with the pharmacist," explained Ms Pallister. "He said he can't get hold of them. He said the drug is limited because pharmacists have been stockpiling it and sending it abroad.

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"I think it's disgusting. How dare pharmacists do this?"

Research by IMS Health has revealed that 11 per cent of the UK's 12,600 pharmacies and a small number of dispensing doctors are exploiting the system in this way - effectively diverting from the UK medicines that are meant for British patients, in a trade worth �30m a month.

A Department of Health bulletin says: "Recent increases in the export of medicines are a major contributor to supply problems and risk jeopardising patient care."

Between January and May this year, emergency arrangements for the delivery of medicines in the UK had to be put in place by manufacturers 77,020 times, compared with 6,134 times during the same period in 2008 - a 1,156 per cent increase.

Ms Pallister has now been able to find a pharmacist in the area who can supply her with Letrozole. "Once I got my tablets I started crying," she said. "That was my life I saw flashing before me. Nobody could help me and it was very traumatic.

"I'm not worried about me now, but what about other people who are not as savvy as me? I do think people should be aware of what's going on. I want to warn them. I'm really concerned this has happened."

Novartis, the pharmaceutical company which supplies Letrozole, said: "There are currently short-term shortages of several medicines and Letrozole is one of the products affected. This has occurred largely because some medicines in the UK are less expensive compared with other parts of Europe. This has created a financial incentive for wholesalers, pharmacies or dispensing doctors to order extra medicines and sell them overseas for profit.

"We have established a patient priority supply procedure for exceptional situations where Novartis medicines cannot be immediately supplied in the first instance from our wholesale partners.

"The procedure will ensure patients receive an essential supply of medication to maintain continuity of treatment.

"Pharmacists who need to secure a critical supply of medicine for a patient can contact the Novartis Patient Priority Supply Line on 08457 419 442.

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