Expecting the unexpected – managing the impact of lack of supplies and shortages on the UK pharmaceutical sector 18 Nov 2021
The petrol shortages earlier this quarter disrupted the country and impacted supply and distribution channels across sectors. Supply chain issues can seriously affect the provision of pharmaceutical ingredients and other essential supplies for manufacturing and ultimately delivering medicines to patients.
With millions of patients relying on life-saving medicines having robust plans to manage any shortages and clear communication plans in difficulties is essential.
On its website, the ABPI helpfully outlines the routine preventative measures that the industry puts in place to protect against shortages, including risk assessment of processes and managing and monitoring stock supplies. However, despite these best efforts, unexpected events such as those triggered by the petrol crisis can impact both demand and the availability of ingredients and equipment.
The other factor in play is Brexit and how our supply and distribution channels adapt outside of the EU. As we know, medicine shortages were highlighted prior to our EU exit as a critical risk of new customs and regulatory barriers. In preparation, the government took several steps, including introducing a new law on “Serious Shortage Protocols” that allowed pharmacists to prescribe alternative products if the original script was unavailable.
Yet, an insightful article published by Nuffield Trust shared analysis revealing that, in fact, for the first months of the year, the government’s tactics were effective and that there was no immediate significant post- Brexit rise in unavailable products.
However, the picture has shifted since the late Summer according to the Nuffield Trust’s analysis. Shortages have become apparent that may be attributable to logistical problems stemming from the longer-term effects of Brexit but also global issues arising from the pandemic.
Essential products that have experienced short supply include laboratory consumables such as pipette tips and gloves, and prominently, a shortage of blood tubes.
The British Medical Journal explored the reasons for the blood tube shortage in the UK in a Q&A in September. The author highlighted unpredictability of demand, challenges with raw material supply and global transportation delays as contributory factors.
The ripples of pandemic and post-Brexit disruption are likely to continue, and other issues like cyber-attacks pose realistic threats to supply. Therefore, continuing to develop supply chain resilience within the pharma industry remains of paramount importance.
McKinsey has highlighted four ways for pharmaceutical organisations to enhance resilience:
- Building transparent supplier relationships that give visibility into their business practices and potential risks
- Routine stress-testing of the system, including scenario planning.
- Expanding the network of suppliers to mitigate the risk of dependency and reduce exposure to shocks
- Ensure that supply chain resilience is an executive priority
In our increasingly globalised and complex industry, these efforts are foundational in ensuring that we continue to meet the needs of patients throughout crises.
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