HOLMESY: Trouble with your prescription?

Have you had trouble collecting your prescription recently? Our amazing pharmacy, in Yarmouth, is run by owner, Tim. He’s one of the Island’s unsung heroes; only last Friday he was praised on the IW Observer’s Soapbox page.

Not only does Tim work seven days a week, when he finally closes his little shop each evening, you’ll find him loading his van, ready to make his evening prescription deliveries. I’ve no idea what time he finally gets home, but, despite these fabulous light evenings, I doubt it’s before dark. We’re so lucky to have him over here, but what he does is not sustainable. When driving through Yarmouth early mornings, I keep spotting Tim, lugging heavy pharmaceutical boxes down to his shop. I’ve seen him resting them on a convenient garden wall, presumably to give his poor back a rest.

Parking in Yarmouth all day is almost impossible. I went to collect my regular prescription recently, and Tim told me he didn’t have anything to give me! Stupidly, I’d left picking it up until running out before calling in, so was grateful he could loan me a few tablets to tide me over.

I mention this because earlier in the year I’d heard about a national shortage of certain drugs. Incredibly, ADHD medication was in such short supply, parents turned to the ‘black market’. Women were also struggling to get HRT meds. I assumed it must be a cost issue, but, as ever, it’s not quite that simple.

In 2017-18, NHS England – AKA the government – cut the pharmacy budget and it’s been frozen ever since. Nowadays, the lack of GP appointments drives far more of us to our local pharmacy for advice and help, which means small chemist shops – run by superstars like Tim – are doing more work for less money. Like all businesses, they’ve also faced rising staff and energy costs.

The whole system is struggling because, as the government has cut the money it pays, drug manufacturers have pulled out of supplying the UK market. Quit simply, these global corporations can get more money from other nations, so unsurprisingly, that’s where they prioritise sales. For some patients, the shortage of meds can mean a medical episode or a trip to A&E, and we all know how that’s likely to work out, as well as costing the NHS more money!

Last week, the BBC reported one NHS trust paid an agency over two grand for a single shift for a specialist nurse. The nurse did work a 12-hour shift, and the agency took about half of the £2,000. But surely, that’s excessive, and further evidence that our NHS is badly run, and totally dependent on agency staff.

That particular ‘£2 grand a shift’ agency is ultimately owned offshore, presumably keeping their huge profits beyond the reach of the UK taxman. On my last trip to St Mary’s, the brilliant nurses looking after me were from London, working here on a Saturday night through an agency.

According to the RCN, the annual cost of agency nurses is now around a billion pounds! It’s become a racket, proof that our NHS is a wasteful basket case. Worryingly, Community Pharmacy England says: “The drug supply situation is beyond critical.”

Across the country, pharmacies in superstores have been closing at an alarming rate too. Almost 500 have gone since 2019, with another 244 set to go this year. Many people find themselves running around between pharmacies, desperately trying to get their prescriptions filled. Is this your experience?

Chemists like our Tim are wasting hours each day, ringing around, trying to source drugs. I keep asking here: “How did it come to this?”, because every single public service seems to be falling apart. Who do you think will fix things, and when?