Hay fever tablets are running low across the country due to an ingredient shortage – and the timing couldn’t be worse as forecasters predict a rise in pollen levels.
Stocks of chlorphenamine maleate — an active ingredient in Piriton medication and other such remedies — are widely limited.
Piriton tablets for adults are out of stock online at Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy and Coop Pharmacy, although their syrups for children are still available.
It comes as drug shortages in England reach their worst level ever, with HRT, steroids and blood pressure drugs also affected.
About 500,000 patients in England are being stung by shortages, which have been blamed on the rising cost of raw materials, post-Brexit trade rule changes and Covid lockdowns in China.
Piriton tablets are out of stock online at Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy and Coop Pharmacy. File image
Chlorphenamine maleate is an active ingredient in Piriton medication and stocks are running low, say Boots. File image
A spokesman for Boots told The Daily Telegraph that they were expecting stocks of hay fever tablets to be ‘resolved soon’.
‘There are a very small number of lines currently out of stock due to an industry-wide shortage of chlorphenamine maleate. However, we are expecting this to be resolved soon.’
The shortages seem to be only in medications containing chlorphenamine maleate, with other types of antihistamines more readily available.
It is understood that tablets using cetirizine hydrochloride are in good supply, which includes Allacan, Benadryl, Piriteze and own-brand varieties.
Both cetirizine and chlorphenamine can be used to treat hay fever, but people often find that one is more suited to them, the NHS says.
Medication using cetirizine hydrochloride is less likely to make someone feel sleepy as a side effect.
Pharmacists say HRT crisis could be resolved ‘quickly’ by cutting red tape
Pharmacists have doubled down on calls to get rid of red tape that blocks them from prescribing alternative HRT treatments amid the nationwide shortage.
Thousands of menopausal women have struggled to their hands on the key drugs, which has left the most desperate rationing prescriptions or turning to the black market.
In hope of alleviating the crisis, chemists have repeatedly called on Sajid Javid to ditch rules that force women to go back to their GPs for new prescriptions to get alternatives prescribed.
But Sajid Javid — who held talks with manufacturers yesterday — has yet to announce a change, despite promising to ‘do all I can’ to fix the crisis.
Thorrun Govind, chair of the English Pharmacy Board, told MailOnline changes in prescription rules need to be changed urgently.
She said: ‘For the pharmacists on the ground, they need the ability to get rid of this bureaucracy.
‘When you think about it — who’s best able to offer an alternative — that tends to be the pharmacist.’
Pollen levels are expected to peak as the two main types – from trees and grass – are simultaneously released in mid-May.
Tree pollen is most common between late-March and mid-May, whereas grass pollen lasts for longer, and is released from mid-May to July. It is also the variety that more people are allergic to.
Sarah Kent, a meteorologist at the Met Office, said: ‘Pollen levels will be high across much of the UK today and Tuesday.
‘At the moment it’s predominantly tree pollen, but grass season is just starting.
‘You may start noticing symptoms more if you’re sensitive to grass pollen.’
It is thought that the pollen season could be extended in the future due to climate change, as well as warmer weather bringing invasive, and more pollen-rich plants to the country.
The issue with hay fever tablets comes as the UK has experienced a general drugs shortage problem in recent weeks.
Two-thirds of pharmacists have been facing supply issues every day, according to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee.
And many of them are having to serve aggressive patients, after they are told that their prescribed medication is unavailable.
The Times found 67 different drugs were on the list of affected products — the most for any March since records began in 2014.
One of the most widely reported supply chain issues is with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), with demand rising among women in recent years.
Fresh supplies of HRT could soon be shipped into Britain from other countries to ease shortages affecting thousands of women.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told The Times that about 500,000 patients are currently facing barriers to getting drugs they need for a wide range of conditions.
Pharmacists are calling for the Government to cut red tape that means they could supply substitute medications without having to send patients back to their GP for a whole new prescription.
Industry insiders claim that increases to the costs of raw ingredients, energy and shipping are the drivers of the current crisis.
But disruptions caused by the pandemic, most recently China’s reversion to strict city-wide lockdowns, are exacerbating the issues, as is Brexit.
Dr Hannbeck told the newspaper: ‘Shortages impact patients the most.
‘Where stable medication has to be changed the process can often be complex and stressful for patients. Some medicines for example for cancer and blood pressure are difficult to substitute.
‘It is pharmacies up and down the country that are dealing with these impositions every day and this should be recognised.
‘What is more, frustrations [of] the public are often resulting in verbal abuse. Acts of violence towards pharmacy teams should not be tolerated. The job is hard enough without having to endure abuse and threats.’
Desperate women have been forced to ration their prescriptions or turn to the black market due to a shortage of HRT drugs, particularly a rub-on gel called Oestrogel.
The British Menopause Society has issued guidance to doctors on alternatives for HRT brands which are in short supply — but these switches cannot be issued by pharmacists.