'I need my medicine': Recovering alcoholic's fear over pharmacist shortage

Jon Williamson from Norwich struggled with his addictions during lockdown

Jon Williamson struggles with addiction, and desperately needs to be able to access his medication - Credit: Jon Williamson

A recovering alcoholic and PTSD sufferer says shortages of pharmacists is putting him in danger because he can't access his medicine.

Jon Williamson, 42, heads to Lloyds Pharmacy in West End Street in Norwich every Friday to pick up his prescription, which involves controlled pain relief drugs dispensed to him weekly.

For the past two months, he claims the pharmacy has frequently been closing early, or not opening at all.

A spokeswoman for Lloyds said the pharmacy's priority was to provide the best possible service to patients,  but that recruiting new pharmacists had become seriously difficult.

Lloyds Pharmacy in West End Street is now frequently closed due to acute staffing shortages on a national scale

Lloyds Pharmacy in West End Street is now frequently closed due to acute staffing shortages on a national scale - Credit: Jon Williamson

She explained: "It's widely acknowledged there is a very real shortage in some areas of the country.

"Simply put, there are not enough pharmacists to meet demand and the reduction in the number of pharmacy graduates is compounding the issue.

"We have an action plan in place to address staffing issues, and are actively bringing in new recruits.

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"But this situation requires a sector-wide response, and is not something community pharmacy providers can address on their own."

Controlled drugs are subject to high levels of government regulation, and are named on the Misuse of Drugs Act. There are strict limits on the amount that can be prescribed at any one time.

Mr Williamson said he feared what would happen to people reliant on them if they were to miss even a day's worth of medication.

Jon Williamson

Jon Williamson, 42, said it was proving more and more difficult to get his entire script as and when he needed it due to pharmacist shortages - Credit: Jon Williamson

He said: "Recently, the pharmacy has been opening for a few hours here and there.

"Last Friday and Saturday they wouldn't even let us inside because they said it was dangerous due to too few members of staff.

"People had to stand and wait for 45 minutes in the rain while they operated "door service" only. 

"If the pharmacy is closed when I go to pick up my medicines, it places me in danger.

"I take controlled painkillers, neuroleptics, antidepressants and medicines to help control alcohol cravings.

Pharmacist handling medicines at Pharmacy Planet, London

Pharmacy Planet can process and deliver a wide range of prescription medicine to customers across the UK. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

"I've been sober since June 2019. The last thing I want is to be left without my medicine. 

"A few weeks back a neighbour of mine had to travel to Oak Street in a wheelchair to get his prescription. It's a joke."

What is causing the problem?

It's not just Lloyds affected - but community chemists nationwide.

Pharmacists have been added to the Home Office's shortage occupation lists, so it's easier for overseas recruits to work here.

But according to a spokesman from the Company Chemists' Association (CCA), the shortage has itself been created by Covid, Brexit and ongoing NHS reforms, making it harder to attract people to the UK.

EMBARGOED TO 0001 THURSDAY OCTOBER 14 File photo dated 05/10/09 of a person getting a flu jab as the

Highgate Well Pharmacy is one of seven branches offering Covid-19 booster vaccines - Credit: PA

This is compounded by a lack of new university recruits, and the fact that new NHS Primary Care Networks have absorbed 10pc of the community pharmacist workforce in recent years.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, said: "The pressures facing the pharmacist workforce, and the creation of new positions in the NHS when insufficient additional pharmacists are being trained, is a significant threat to healthcare in England.

"Fundamentally, without action patient access to medicines is likely to suffer.”