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Three quarters of GPs in ‘moral distress’ at medicine shortages

by Julie Griffiths
17 June 2024

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Three in four (74%) GPs say they experience ‘moral distress’ because they cannot access medicines they know their patients need, a survey by indemnity provider MDDUS has found.

The MDDUS revealed that the impact of the UK-wide medicine shortage is so bad that nearly a third (30%) of GPs who suffer moral distress say it happens on a daily basis. A further 37% suffer it several times a week.

Over nine in 10 GPs (94%) said their workload has increased due to the medicine shortage and more than half (53%) said they were ‘concerned about the risk of a complaint or claim against them or their practice’.

The impact of the shortages includes 74% of GPs being faced with angry or aggressive patients who are unable to get the first-line drugs they need.

One in four (25%) of GPs said they felt anxious about coming to work because they may be unable to prescribe the medication patients need and 30% were anxious about having to deal with anger and aggression as a result.

One GP said: ‘It is very demoralising working as hard as we can but still being unable to meet patients’ needs due to constraints outside of our control.

‘It makes workdays harder than necessary and mentally exhausting.’

The survey of 397 GPs from across the UK found that almost nine in 10 GPs believe the shortage of prescription medicine is severely hampering their ability to practice safely. 

Nearly half (45%) reported that they have seen patients’ health deteriorate as a result of medicine shortages.

One GP respondent said: ‘It makes you second guess yourself frequently. Clinical decisions are now being influenced by this lack of medications, which leads to an increased sense of worry.’

More than a third (36%) said that medicine shortages have worsened in 2024. And 83% said there was a lack of guidance on how to advise patients about the shortages, including timescales for when the medicine they need will become available.

GPs report drugs most affected by the shortages are hormone replacement therapy, including oestrogens, progestogens and testosterone (86%), diabetes medicines (GLP-1 RAs such as Ozempic) (80%), epilepsy medicines (42%) and cardiac medicines (30%).

The survey found that 17% of GPs said the various problems associated with medicine shortages is making them consider leaving the medical profession.

While the availability of some medicines has been impacted post-Brexit, other significant factors include global supply chain issues and problems created by bureaucratic processes in the NHS.

MDDUS has called on governments across the UK to urgently investigate better, more compassionate ways for pressurised medics to seek wellbeing help and speak out about their mental health concerns.

Dr John Holden, chief medical officer at MDDUS, described it asdisturbing to see how many GPs are suffering from professional and personal moral distress because they feel they’re failing their patients by being unable to access the medicine they know is necessary’.

He said the MDDUS regularly heard from doctors about the enormous pressures they face every day in the NHS.

And the crisis around medicine shortages was making things even worse, said Dr Holden.

‘It is not uncommon for doctors to contact us when they feel they’re at the very edge of their ability to cope with these pressures,’ he said.