Patients across Europe are being forced to wait months for life-saving medications due to bottlenecks in deliveries from Asia.
Health chiefs have warned lives are at risk, with pharmacies running out of vaccines for children, insulin for diabetics and heart disease treatments.
Chemists are also unable to access antibiotics, painkillers, the morning after pill and other basic drugs due to the hold up in Asia.
In Denmark, pharmacies have sold out of more than a thousand drugs, including sleeping medication for insomniacs and treatment for haemorrhoids.
Epileptics in Germany are being forced to wait months for their pills, while Norway’s drug have plunged to a ten-year low.
Similar problems have been reported in the UK over the past few months, as well as Belgium, Austria and Italy.
It has meant that doctors and pharmacists are having to prescribe alternative medications and off-label drugs.
Millions of patients across Europe are being forced to wait months for life-saving medications including vaccines for children, insulin for diabetics and blood thinners for heart disease patients (file)
The majority of Europe’s most popular drugs are produced in a small number of factories China and India, which offer cheap labour.
It means any issues or delays in the production line can have serious ramifications for millions of patients on the continent.
While the situation is not ideal, pharmacists can normally improvise and substitute the medications for safe, alternative treatments.
But the severity of this shortage means there are no alternatives for 25 of the 1,300 drugs that have sold out in Denmark.
Claudia Arimont, a pharmacist at the Town Hall Pharmacy in St Vith in Belgium, told the broadcaster BRF: ‘Sadly the shortages have got worse in recent years. Unfortunately we are left in the dark.
‘We don’t know how we are to explain to the customers what’s happening. We have no information at all about how long the disruption to our supplies might last.’
The German government says at least 278 medications are running critically low due to delivery problems.
BRITAIN’S HRT CRISIS FORCING WOMEN TO SEEK TREATMENT ABROAD
Women have been forced into buying HRT medication from abroad as it is now almost impossible to get in Britain.
Shortages have been going on for months but reached ‘crisis point’ this week as most Evorel patches – the UK market leader – disappeared from the shelves.
Many alternatives were already out of stock and the two main pharmaceutical wholesalers have completely run out of all commonly-prescribed HRT patches, according to an audit seen by the Daily Mail.
Manufacturers are rationing what little stock they have with the support of the Department of Health, which has been slammed for its ‘disastrous’ handling of the crisis.
Some women have been buying boxes for their friends from pharmacies while on holiday in Spain. One patient has even been air-freighting HRT from South Africa.
Around two-thirds of HRT treatments have been hit by shortages. They include Evorel and Elleste, the two most popular brands, which are prescribed to upwards of 100,000 women a year – more than half of those on the treatment.
More than half of women on HRT are prescribed patches, which are applied once or twice a week below the waist.
But it recognises this number is likely to be far higher as reporting is not compulsory. It said some drugs are not expected to be available before October 2021.
The shortages have sparked outrage, with many patients groups campaigning for their governments to stockpile drugs or start producing them on home soil. Others have proposed export bans.
There could be similar issues in the UK, as 7,000 of the 12,300 drugs used in Britain come from, or via, the EU.
In preparation for a No Deal Brexit scenario, Britain has been stockpiling six-weeks’ worth of medication.
But UK pharmacists have warned of shortages of every major type of medicine – including antidepressants and blood pressure pills.
Drugs for epileptics and diabetics as well as heartburn pills are also in low supply, according to a shocking poll of more than 400 pharmacists in the UK.
Staff have told how they are on a ‘knife edge’ trying to cope amid fears from angry patients that they may not able to get their drugs.
It comes amid a nationwide HRT shortage that has seen British women buy the pills abroad, over claims the supply issues could last until mid-2020.
Several contraceptive pills have also become difficult to get hold of, while doctors have been told to hold off from issuing repeat prescriptions for the antidepressant Prozac.
A shortfall was reported across all 36 categories of medicines included in the survey by Chemist and Druggist. No specific drugs or brand names were mentioned.
A total of 402 community pharmacy professionals reported what medicines they had struggled to get in the last six months.
HRT drugs were most commonly in short supply, with 84 per cent of respondents having difficulty sourcing the products.
Some 67 per cent of pharmacy staff said they have struggled to get contraceptives, and 58 per cent experienced supply issues of antiepileptic drugs.
More than half reported a shortage of creams for inflammed skin or blood circulation problems, such as rubefacients, topical NSAIDs, or capsaicin.
More than 20 per cent reported drugs for diabetes were in short supply.
Antipsychotic drugs – for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – and pain relief pills, which may include codeine, also were low in supply.
From border chaos to drug shortages: The doomsday warnings about a no-deal Brexit
THE M20 TURNING INTO A ‘GIANT LORRY PARK’
One of the most vivid warnings about no-deal is that a 13-mile stretch of the M20 could become a giant lorry park for years.
Some 10,000 freight vehicles pass through Dover daily, and the port handles one-sixth of the UK’s total trade in goods.
But imposing checks on them could cause massive tailbacks on both sides of the Channel, and spark shortages.
Britons could also need insurance for Channel Tunnel disruption if there is no-deal Brexit, the government warned today.
Guidance on rail says the government is still struggling to agree ‘mutual recognition’ with the EU to avoid disruption to services such as the Eurostar should there be no deal by March.
Contingency plans have been put in place to fly in medical supplies as the NHS braces for six months of chaos if the UK crashes out of the EU.
Crucial supplies could also be diverted to ports away from the Channel, and some drugs may even be rationed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has revealed the NHS is laying out on huge numbers of refrigeration units to try and keep supplied usable.
BLACKOUTS IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Northern Ireland faces the threat of electricity blackouts if the UK crashes out of the European Union without a deal.
Negotiators are trying to secure an agreement with Brussels that the current single electricity market would remain intact even if exit talks collapse.
But if the pledge was not secured, customers on both sides of the border could be hit.
The single electricity market involves ‘significant’ flows of power between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Government technical papers said there was a ‘risk’ that the single electricity market ‘may not be able to continue’.
If that happens, the Northern Ireland Utility Regulator, an energy watchdog, will ‘take action to seek to ensure continued security of supply and market stability’, they warned.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney set out one of the most blood-curdling outcomes – while making clear it was a worst case.
He suggested the size of the economy could plunge by 8 per cent in less than a year – further and faster than the financial crisis of 2008.
At the same time, the unemployment rate would rise 7.5 per cent, meaning hundreds of thousands losing their jobs.
Inflation would surge 6.5 per cent, sending prices in the shops surging House prices could plunge 30 per cent, while commercial property prices are set to fall 48 per cent.
The pound would fall by 25 per cent to less than parity against both the US dollar and the euro.