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Monday, 24 July 2006 09:08
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Drug shortage
18 months ago the Government was warned of serious shortages in the supply of a powerful drug used to relieve the pain of cancer, heart attacks and severe injuries, but to date the drug is still in limited supply.

In December 2004 the Department of Health asked doctors to ration supplies of diamorphine to save doses for those who were dying.

But even now the Department of Health says supplies are not expected to rise until next year.

The national shortage is again in the spotlight after a woman from Nottingham, Isabelle Fortescue, died in agony from cancer when her carers were unable to get her diamorphine for the last two days of her life. Her former husband Joe Fortescue, 49, said she had wanted to die in peace at home with her family.

"That didn't happen," he said. "My wife kept crying out for something for the pain. But we couldn't tell her they had run out of the drug”.

Following Mrs Fortescue's death, Gedling Primary Care Trust in Nottingham is setting up a scheme to make sure supplies are available in emergencies.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, said: "Doctors are still looking to diamorphine to treat patients in extreme pain.

"That the Government has known about these deficiencies for some time, and yet has not secured the right supply level, is unacceptable.

"We cannot have a situation in this country where patients are suffering because the Government did not do enough to secure adequate provision of this drug”.

Dr Helen Clayson, vice-chairman of Help the Hospices and medical director of the Hospice of St Mary of Furness, in Ulverston, Cumbria, said there was concern that use of the drug would be allowed to diminish.

"It would be a great shame if diamorphine disappeared from use," she said. "It is used a great deal in palliative care medicine and it is extremely useful. In addition there is a wealth of experience in using it”.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the circumstances surrounding Mrs Fortescue's death were tragic. "We wish to express sympathy for the family," she said.

"Discussions between the department, the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency and suppliers commenced as soon as we became aware of problems with the manufacture and supply.

"One of the suppliers responded by immediately increasing its production of diamorphine, but they are unable to completely fill the gap”.

The department said it had made available more supplies of morphine, the nearest alternative, and other painkillers.

"We continue to work very closely with manufacturers to increase the availability of diamorphine.

"However, they must overcome significant technical production and legal barriers associated with the manufacture of this controlled drug.

"Very few countries worldwide permit the use or handling of diamorphine”.


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