During 2017, the prices of certain generic medicines purchased by community pharmacies for the NHS increased unexpectedly, affecting an unusually high number of medicines. Although the Department of Health & Social Care (the Department) and its arms-length bodies took action to ensure patients continued to receive the medicines they needed, it was slow to take action to manage the financial impact. Clinical commissioning groups bore the brunt of this unexpected increase in costs, which contributed substantially to their end-of-year overspend of around £250 million in 2017–18. While we received no evidence that any patients were harmed, some patients did have difficulties obtaining medicines and pharmacists had to go to greater lengths to secure medicines in short supply. The Department’s ability to deal with any future reoccurrence of these issues, in a more timely and effective manner, hinges on its 2017 powers and accompanying regulations introduced from July 2018. We were not convinced that the Department had a clear plan on how it would use the new powers. Also, the Department could not assure us of its plans to safeguard the supply of medicines after the UK has exited the European Union, which is worrying given that this exit is fast approaching.
Published: 12 October 2018