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Prescription Drugs

Volume 659: debated on Tuesday 7 May 2019

Over 2 million prescription items are successfully dispensed in England every day, and we have well-established procedures to deal with medicine supply issues should they occur. We work closely with all those involved in the supply chain to help ensure any risks to patients are minimised when supply issues arise.

I welcome the Minister to her place. She will know from written questions I have tabled that my constituents have real concerns about the availability of the epilepsy drug Sabril, which has been in short supply. She told me last month that supplies would be resolved by mid-April; she has now told me in a written answer that supplies will be resolved by mid-May. It seems there is a disconnect between what the Minister is saying and what is actually happening on the ground. When can she guarantee that this drug will be widely available again?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue again. We have expressed our great concern to the suppliers about this problem, and we are working alongside them to ensure that, although there is enough Sabril nationally, we get it in the right place at the right time. We will go back to them and express our concern again.

May I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) on her appointment? I am sure the whole House wishes her well in her important work.

Related to the question of prescription drugs is that of vaccinations, where rates have been falling, partly driven by alarming and inaccurate material posted on social media, including Facebook. Will the Minister join me in calling on Facebook to remove material that deters people from vaccinating their children? If it refuses to do so, does she agree that legislation may be needed?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met Facebook last week.

On the issue of vaccination broadly, in 2017 we met the 95% rate for vaccination. Immunisation for everybody is absolutely crucial, but some children cannot be immunised because they are too young and others because they are immune-suppressed; so everybody who can be immunised should be immunised.

I also welcome the hon. Lady to her place.

Close to 100 commonly prescribed medications are in seriously short supply, including painkillers, antibiotics and antidepressants. Worries about Brexit outcomes have led to the stockpiling of medications, which has undoubtedly exacerbated the problem, but I know from my own experience in community pharmacy that there have been concerns about the supply chain for several years, long before Brexit was ever dreamed of. The Government have, however, consistently turned a blind eye to these problems, which place additional pressures on GPs and pharmacists and are most certainly detrimental to patient care. Can the Minister assure me today that she understands the scale of the problem and outline the steps she is taking to resolve it?

I thank the shadow Minister, my Lancashire neighbour, for her welcome. The Department takes this extremely seriously; we have a whole team working on it. There are about 12,500 prescribed medicines in this country, with only between 50 and 100 being looked at by the medicines supply team at any one time. There is no cause for complacency, though. In January this year, we took further steps to make it mandatory for pharmaceutical companies to report any supply issues to us as soon as possible.