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New Year’s Resolution: Reliable Medication


2 January 2020

If online shopping means we can get luxury and grocery items to our door on demand, why can’t we do the same with essential medicines, asks our Chief Executive, Clare Pelham as she resolves to get the medicines supply chain sorted.

So, my online Christmas shopping is over for another year, and apart from feeling digitally exhausted - a replacement for the good old-fashioned sore feet of High Street shopping days – I am, as always, impressed by how efficiently the eclectic array of selected gifts and goodies arrived on my doorstep.

From a dozen chocolate oranges – is there anyone who doesn’t love a chocolate orange? - to some really obscure books and music – it’s all there, or rather here for the asking.  Online shopping is one of the success stories of the 21st century.

So why, I find myself repeatedly asking, have we spent the last year at the Epilepsy Society dealing with an unprecedented number of calls from people who are unable to get their epilepsy medication? 2019 has been like no other year in failing to deliver when it comes to essential drugs which, for many, can be life-saving.

Designing solutions

I am genuinely thrilled to receive CDs, books, Brussels sprouts and chocolate oranges on time. But if we can get luxury and grocery items to our door on demand, why can’t we do the same with essential medicines? Technology often designs a solution to one problem that has an unpredicted, life-enhancing, medical application.

Digital imaging developed to enhance pictures from the moon landings in the ‘60s, is now used in CT and MRI scans of the brain. Technology used by engineers to listen for faults in bridges, has recently been shown capable of detecting ‘noisy’ arthritis in people’s knees.

As long as knowledge isn’t pigeon-holed and guarded defensively, it can be powerful, positive and surprising. So, if we reliably receive luxury items such as toys, books and music on time, every time regardless of seasonality, surely we should be able to learn something from the management of their supply chains?

Commissioning a reivew of the medicines  supply chain

At the Epilepsy Society, we are calling on the Government to commission a review of the medicines supply chain. We have already spoken with the Department of Health and Social Care and have their assurance that this is something they will consider in the New Year. They have promised to work with us where there are gaps in overall supply chain resilience.

We are aware that for some the blame for medication shortages is being laid at the door of Brexit. But in fact we know that the problems pre-date Brexit and have been ongoing for some years.

I am certain that a partnership between Government, the pharmaceutical industry and all those who reply on essential drugs, working together, with goodwill and creativity can solve these shortages.

Now I am not suggesting that the toy industry, music industry or publishing have got everything right or don’t experience problems of their own. But I do know that if I order Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust, I will not be prescribed his Northern Lights an alternative. Nor would I expect to receive something by a completely different author.

New Year's resolution

Medication should be even more specific, particularly when it comes to epilepsy. It can take years to refine a person’s medication regime for maximum seizure control and minimum side effects. That fine balance is always very individual. It is something to be preserved and respected. It should never be at the mercy of “manufacturing issues”.

So, I think our own New Year’s resolution must be to get the medicines supply chain sorted.

For most people with uncontrolled epilepsy, seizures are unpredictable and unannounced. Our researchers are working on this. It is our goal that in the future, epilepsy should be irrelevant to a person’s everyday life. But in the meantime, we must use all the resources we have at our disposal and harness intelligence and learning from all walks of life to improve the medicines supply chain.

We can’t always stop seizures, but we can surely stop the ‘out-of-stock’ conversations that are happening at pharmacies in high streets up and down the country.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year with a reliable and uninterrupted supply of all the medicines that you need!