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Learn about current disruptions to the supply of medicines, and how they happen.

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First published:
2 May 2024
Last updated:


Any disruption to a medicine’s supply is concerning to the people who need it and their clinicians. Generally, disruptions affect a very small proportion of medicines in the NHS. Most shortages can be managed without interrupting people’s supplies.

Causes of medicine shortages

Medicines shortages happen due to:

  • increasing demand, which exceeds the manufacturer’s capacity
  • disruption of raw materials
  • manufacturing problems

Devolution and medicine shortages

As a reserved matter, maintaining the supply of medicines to the UK is the UK government’s responsibility. However, managing the effects on patients and the NHS needs co-ordination between the UK, devolved governments, and the NHS. It sees us work closely with UK government, manufacturers, wholesalers, prescribers and pharmacies.

Patients’ choices during medicine shortages

Each pharmacy sources its medicine supply from a network of wholesale pharmacies. In turn, they source medicines from a range of manufacturers. It is possible that at times of intermittent supply, medicines will arrive at different pharmacies at different times. You may need to take your prescription to more than one pharmacy to get your medicine.

People who have difficulty getting their medicine should discuss alternatives with their clinician.

Further information is available through the Welsh Medicines Advice Service website.

Serious shortage protocols

Normally, a pharmacist must supply the medicine and dose as written on the prescription. However suitable alternatives may exist which can be used in times of a major rise in demand. In that case, UK government can issue a ‘serious shortage protocol’.

A serious shortage protocol lets a pharmacist give a suitable alternative to the medicine on a prescription. This may simply be exchanging tablets for capsules, or a different brand of the same medicine.

See current serious shortage protocols here