Ministers are racing to replenish stockpiles of essential medicines after new figures revealed massive shortfalls in the Government’s ‘buffer’ stocks compared to last year.
Figures from the Department of Health reveal that supplies of drugs including asthma inhalers, antibiotics, paracetamol and ibuprofen appear to have run dangerously low.
The Government wrote to industry last month to ask businesses to set aside six weeks of medicines “where possible” and ministers plan to award new contracts to build up supplies.
But the shortages will cause alarm as the country prepares for a second wave of the deadly coronavirus pandemic and the possibility of failing to reach a trade deal with the EU.
The ‘Essential Medicines Buffer Stock’ is supposed to support the NHS in the event of a pandemic or other health emergency by making sure the supply chain is interrupted.”
During the first wave of coronavirus, medicine stockpiles were high as ministers had built them up ahead of a possible no deal Brexit at the end of 2019.
Shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry said: “It appears our current buffer stocks are still well short of the levels we had this time last year.
“On an issue as important as this, the country needs decisive and effective leadership, so I hope ministers will either explain these figures, or if necessary, take rapid action to correct the shortfall.”
The figures, revealed in a Parliamentary written answer, show the Government’s ‘Essential Medicines Buffer Stockpile’ has just 42% of the paracetamol it had a year ago, a shortfall of four million packs from the peak.
At the height of the lockdown in April, the Government was forced to import 2.8m packs from India after shoppers cleared supermarket and pharmacy shelves.
It also contains just two thirds the number of Salbutamol inhalers, the standard treatment for asthma sufferers, a shortage of 1.3 million doses.
There are zero supplies of ibuprofen in the medicines stockpile, compared with almost 600,000 packs and 235,000 liquid singles this time last year.
Nor does it contain any Amoxicillin antibiotics, compared with 783,000 100ml doses and 2.4m packs last autumn.
The Department of Health was unable to say whether it had any emergency stockpiles of insulin, the key drug for treating diabetics.
A spokesperson said: “We hold a range of stockpiles for a variety of medicines, including crucial treatments used to treat COVID-19 patients to help ensure there is uninterrupted supply over the coming months.
“As part of our contingency plans we have also asked suppliers to stockpile at least six weeks’ worth of medicines, as part of a robust and flexible multi-layered approach which also includes re-routing supply chains and being ‘trader ready’.”