Britain faces growing shortages of some medicines as low prices relative to other European countries fuel exports from the country, leaving many pharmacies scrabbling for supplies, according to a survey of pharmacists.
Lloydspharmacy, a unit of Germany's Celesio, said Thursday that a survey of 396 of its pharmacists around Britain found 80 percent were unable to dispense certain items because of shortages.
Occasional shortages have been seen before in Britain -- but the current situation has been aggravated by a weak pound, which means Britain is now a particularly cheap place for middlemen to buy medicines and sell them on a profit in other European markets.
Such so-called parallel trade is legal under European Union law and has long been an irritation for drugmakers. In the past, companies have complained about cheap parallel imports flooding into the country when British drug prices were relatively high.
The new alarm over drug shortages in Britain comes hard on the heels of action by President Barack Obama to tackle an escalating shortage of life-saving medicines in the United States, due to manufacturing and supply issues.
British health minister Andrew Lansley recently took action to end the trading of medicines by pharmacies that do not have a wholesale dealers licence, but that action still leaves licensed wholesalers free to export drugs.
Tony Page, the managing director of Lloydspharmacy, said government measures to date had not been sufficient to address a serious problem, which now meant that 50 percent of pharmacists were spending between one and three hours a week trying to resolve stock availability issues for patients.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, representing manufacturers, said Britain currently had amongst the lowest prices in Europe and medicines intended for British patients were consequently flowing out of the country.
This puts patients at risk and is the cause of supply shortages in pharmacies, said association CEO Stephen Whitehead.
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Mike Nesbit)