Can medical supply issues affect the outcome for patients?

Are patients’ lives at risk from medical supply issues? We explore this question, here …

Every single day, millions of lives are saved by medicines and medical treatments. That said, almost all of these treatments are reliant on a supply of medicines and equipment, so what happens when the supply runs dry?

COVID-19 has seen this supply of equipment becoming strained and, with the effects of Brexit looming, the issue is compounded. Any medical negligence solicitor will tell you that supply chain shortages in UK hospitals could give you cause for a compensation claim if you’ve been affected. The question is, how might patients be affected by this?

Why are there medical supply chain issues in the UK?

It is thought that medical supply issues were largely caused by Brexit – the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union on the 31st of January 2020. Prior to this date, there was an extended period of uncertainty, with lots of non-UK nationals fleeing the country. This led to jobs remaining unfilled and issues with transport.

As 90 percent of the UK’s medicines and supplies are imported from overseas, a lack of HGV drivers caused significant problems with supplies reaching Great Britain.

Medical supply shortages

In the UK as a whole, it has been revealed that, in 2019, over 200 medicines were in short supply for over three months, including:

  • AastraZeneca Zyban (used to help people to stop smoking)
  • Par Questran (a bile acid sequestrant)
  • Diamorphine (a strong painkiller administered to cancer patients)
  • Metoprolol (used to treat high blood pressure)
  • Co-Careldopa (Used to treat Parkinson’s disease)

Hepatitis vaccines and anti-epileptic medicines also faced shortages during this time. Some examples of shortages we have seen in Bristol alone include:

  • National shortage of sample vials for blood tests, causing delays across the board, and meaning potentially life-threatening illnesses are not caught in time.
  • In April 2020, Bristol Health was asking the public for more PPE due to a supply shortage.
  • Bristol Royal Infirmary reported a major shortage in medical staff due to issues with training, recruiting, and retaining employees.

How might medical supply shortages affect patients in the UK?

These shortages are just the tip of the iceberg. Elsewhere in the UK, similar supply chain issues are being reported, which will no doubt have a knock-on effect across the country. So, how might this be affecting UK citizens?

Waiting times for results and surgeries

Medical supply issues are impacting waiting times for patient surgeries and treatments. This has, of course, been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many patients being forced to wait for potentially lifesaving treatments.

It’s reported that some patients have had to wait 12 weeks for vital treatment and several months for less essential treatments; all of which adds up to huge backlogs for the already beleaguered NHS.

Medical negligence cases

Medical supply issues almost certainly impact patient outcomes as, when medical professionals are unable to prescribe certain drugs or perform vital procedures, this can lead to a deterioration in health and even death for patients. For example, in the case of Metoprolol, if a patient stops taking the medication – particularly if it ceases suddenly – this can lead to spiking blood pressure and even heart attacks.

This means that a medical professional will usually have to scramble to either find an alternative medicine or to switch to a different kind of treatment. In cases such as Diamorphine, the patient may experience heightened pain and discomfort unless a suitable alternative is found. No doubt, this is sure to cause issues for the NHS in future, with many positing that a rise in medical negligence cases is inevitable.

What does the future of the NHS look like?

As we navigate our way out of the pandemic – and the government works to smooth the transition of Brexit with initiatives such as a Brexit visa, the hope is that we’ll soon see an end to the medical supply issues that have dogged the UK for the last couple of years .

Photo by Stevepb on Pixabay.