Lack of available medicines hints at ‘broken Britain’ – organisations must plan accordingly

24 Feb 2023


After hoarding long-life foodstuffs, medicine and – yes – toilet roll during the pandemic, my family and I have, until now, been well stocked to combat coughs, colds, and flu without a trip to the pharmacy. However, at the start of this year, with my wife and I starting to feel under the weather, supplies at home had run out. So, wanting to limit the damage of an oncoming cold, I bravely ventured out, with a sore throat, to procure our go-to remedy: Day & Night Nurse.

We live in a village close to Sheffield and are fortunate to have three pharmacies in the village. Unfortunately, despite the trio of options, there was no Day & Night Nurse to be found anywhere. Indeed, when I asked at one place, the pharmacist laughed. What was amusing? There is none around,” he replied, and if you find some, buy as much as possible.” 

I scanned the shelves and was alarmed to see that they were roughly 60% empty. The pharmacist added that with so many people suffering colds, the demand for medicine was incredibly high, but even remedies such as Lemsip and Beechams – items one can buy in supermarkets, over the counter – were running out. 

My disappointing experience has been all too common this winter. In early January, there was much finger-pointing about why there was a shortage of cough and cold medicines in the UK. Pharmacy leaders argued that it resulted from ministers lack of planning, and Rishi Sunak was accused of being in denial as supply-chain problems worsened.

Poor health of the country

Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, echoed what my local pharmacist had told me. 

Pharmacists are struggling to obtain the very basic, most common cold and flu medicine,” Hannbeck said. This isnt just the branded medicines; it is also simple things like throat lozenges, cough mixtures or painkillers - particularly the ones that are soluble.

Hannbeck conceded that the demand has been high because this season weve seen higher cases of colds and flu and people are obviously trying very hard to look after themselves and making sure that they use the relevant products to manage the symptoms. But her statement addressed the symptom rather than the cause of the supply-chain challenges.

Unsurprisingly, the Brexit fallout is exacerbating the situation in the pharma industry. Following the break from the European Union and due to the increased complexity when importing goods, lots of medicines are no longer listed in the UK, which is worrying for people who rely on them. 

There are many other examples where key things are missing that are not headline news, and its affecting the health of UK businesses. Further, the lack of Day & Night Nurse is a fitting metaphor for the poor state of the country right now. Its broken and in need of help.

The biggest challenge appears to be lack of planning. After many years of Covid lockdowns the exponential rise of colds and flu was a plannable event and a worse case scenario you would hope someone was working through.

If we want to fix many of these issues then companies need to focus on their ability to plan. Aligning as a business on the future scenarios that might be required can help organisations to shape themselves to be ready to respond and react when change does occur. This is more critical than ever, especially as change is currently the only constant.

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