Some manufacturer groups are emphasizing that the main reasons for shortages are not so much because of manufacturing failures
but due to inadequacies in the supply chain, especially at the wholesaling and retailing stages. They point to the variety
of reimbursement systems among EU states that has led to big differences in medicine prices between countries. These disparities
are heightened by fluctuations in exchange rates between the eurozone of 17 countries and other EU states with their own currencies,
such as the pound in the UK, which is one of the few large EU pharmaceutical markets outside the euro area.
These gaps between national prices has triggered a considerable amount of parallel trading in medicines with products manufactured
to serve the needs of a country with low prices being diverted by wholesalers, many of them pharmacists with small short-line
wholesaling businesses, to EU countries with higher prices. In the UK, an EU country with a high level of parallel trading,
an estimated 10–15% of the country's 12,500 community pharmacists are using wholesale dealer licences (WDL) to export medicines
to other EU states.
"Parallel trading by pharmacists with wholesale dealer licences is the main cause of current shortages of branded medicines
in the UK, not manufacturing problems," explains Sam Ogden, a supply-chain specialist at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical
Industry (ABPI), London, to BioPharm International.
"UK medicine prices are, at the moment, among the lowest in Europe so there is a big incentive for pharmacist wholesalers
to divert medicines supplied to them for dispensing purposes to other European countries with higher prices."
Parallel trading is legal in the EU because the right to benefit from the free movement of goods underpins the Union's single
internal market. As a result of it, the ABPI claims that manufacturers oversupply the UK market with their branded medicines
by an average of 120–130%. Ironically, this excess supports the case put forward by the parallel traders that their activities
are helping channel surplus supplies to countries with scarcities of medicines. Disagreement between different groups about
issues like parallel trading merely highlights the complexities of sorting out the EU's problems with medicine shortages.
Sean Milmo is a freelance writer based in Essex, UK, firstname.lastname@example.org