EU’ve got to be joking! Pharmacists are being BLOCKED from sharing HRT and other in-demand meds due to Brussels’ red tape amid UK drug shortage, warn  industry bodies

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  • Pharmacy groups want an old rule making it easier to trade drugs reintroduced
  • Pharmacies used to be able to share up to 5% of their supplies to meet demand
  • But the rule was scrapped in 2012 to align with EU medicine sales regulations
  • Now Britain has left the bloc, pharmacists say we should bring the rule back
  • This could help deal with Britain’s drug shortages for medications like HRT

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Britain’s current drug shortages are partly being fueled by EU red tape that blocks pharmacies from sharing in-stock medicines.

Industry bodies want No10 to ditch the rule so they can trade medications and help end the ‘postcode lottery’ for HRT, blood pressure drugs, antibiotics, and dozens of other medications plagued by supply issues, MailOnline can reveal.


Pharmacies were once allowed to sell up to 5 per cent of their stock to other stores without needing a special license that costs almost £1,000 a year.

Known as the ‘5 per cent rule’, it enabled individual pharmacies to sell their supplies to ones experiencing high demand. But it was scrapped in 2012 to align the UK with Brussels’ regulations.

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Despite the UK leaving the bloc officially at the end of 2020, the rule remains in place.

Trade bodies argue the 5 per cent rule should be reintroduced immediately, even if it ends up barely making a dent on the current crisis.

Fears are growing that the UK could soon find itself short of painkillers, steroids, anti-depressants and blood pressure medications, too.

The crisis for HRT has left desperate women tipping each other off about pharmacies with supplies, swapping medications in car parks and paying eye-watering premiums online.

Pharmacy industry groups are calling for No10 to reintroduce a rule allowing pharmacies to more freely share drug supplies that was scrapped to align with EU regulations

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA), which represents community pharmacists, is one of those calling for the rule to be brought back now the country has left the EU.

Jasmine Shah, its head of advice and support services, told MailOnline: ‘Pharmacies should also be able to share medicines with each other if one or more run short of a particular line.

‘This flexibility was available to pharmacies until a few years ago but it was curtailed to comply with an EU directive.

The Mail’s manifesto to fix the HRT crisis

1. Allow pharmacists to dispense substitutes if the prescribed HRT is out of stock

Currently, if an HRT product is unavailable, a pharmacist cannot substitute another product without consulting the prescribing GP, forcing patients to go back and forth between doctor and pharmacy. This could be avoided if pharmacists are allowed to alter prescriptions themselves. They should also be able to move stock between different pharmacies.

2. End the postcode lottery

Local areas all have different formularies – or lists – of approved HRT products, meaning women face a postcode lottery of treatments. A national list of all approved HRT products would ensure women have equal access, and that alternative treatments are available faster.

3. Immediately introduce the once-a-year payment for HRT medication

An annual prescription payment for HRT, which could save women up to £200 a year, is planned for April 2023. This must be implemented urgently, especially during the cost-of-living squeeze, so all women can afford treatment.

4. Bring forward a mandatory requirement for medical students to be taught about the menopause

A curriculum change needs to be introduced sooner than January 2023, when it is planned. This will ensure all doctors have the training to recognize menopause symptoms, which will help reduce the rate of misdiagnoses.

5. Provide menopause information to women at their NHS health check

Everyone who doesn’t have a pre-existing medical condition is invited for a free check-up every five years between the ages of 40 and 74. Women should be given information at these health checks to raise awareness of the menopause and treatment options.


‘This should now be reintroduced.’

Labor MP Carolyn Harris, a co-chair of the UK menopause pharmacy taskforce, also said she supported the reintroduction of sharing.

‘In principle, as long as it is limited to 5 per cent, this is a good solution to a problem that thousands of people up and down the country are facing,’ she said.

‘It worked well in the past and would save patients the anxiety of traveling around different pharmacies trying to locate stock themselves.’

However, she added that products need to be available for pharmacies to share and therefore Britain needed to boost its HRT supplies first.

‘Shortage of supply countrywide will not be solved by allowing pharmacies to share medicines if they are simply not available anywhere in the first place,’ she said.

The 5 per cent rule enabled community pharmacies to transfer limited amounts of drugs between each other and other health care providers such as small hospitals without paying for a license.

This allowed a pharmacy with excess stock of a particular medication to transfer it to other pharmacies that needed them.

However, this exemption was scrapped in 2012 to align with EU legislation which required anyone undertaking such transfers or sales to hold an authorization to do so.

With the NPA warning hundreds of community pharmacies are facing closure due to the financial impact of Covid, few can afford the cost of an annual licence.

Four drugs are classified as being in severe shortage by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) which negotiates NHS deals with the Government.

Three of these are HRT medications, Oestrogel, Ovestin and Premique.

The other is a specific dosage of the antidepressant called fluoxetine, sold under the brand Prozac.

But 59 other medications are also considered to be in short supply by the PSNC and the Government.

These medications include treatments for hay fever, hypertension as well dosages of antibiotics and…


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