Pharmacists have warned of shortages of every major type of medicine – including HRT, antidepressants and blood pressure pills.
Drugs for diabetes, epilepsy and skin problems are among the treatments in short supply, along with common contraceptives, a survey suggests.
The poll of more than 400 pharmacists found hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs were worst hit, with 84 per cent of respondents struggling to get hold of these products.
Meanwhile, 67 per cent of pharmacists had seen shortages of contraceptives, 58 per cent experienced supply issues of antiepileptic drugs. And around 20 per cent of those polled declared shortages of antipsychotic drugs, with even more warning of difficulties obtaining medication to treat diabetes.
Experts said there are a number of reasons for the shortages, including manufacturing problems, a paucity of some raw ingredients and the discontinuation of some brands.
Pharmacists said they felt on a “knife edge” trying to cope with supply problems, which some fear will worsen in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
A shortfall was reported across all 36 categories of medicines included in the survey of 420 community pharmacy professionals by Chemist and Druggist magazine.
Those polled said it was increasingly difficult to explain current shortages to “angry and desperate” patients.
It follows warnings of growing shortages of HRT, which are expected to continue until at least next summer. Around two thirds of HRT treatments are understood to have been affected by shortages.
Leading HRT brands affected include Everol and Elleste, which between them are prescribed to more than 100,000 women a year – more than half of those on the treatment. Some women said they have been forced to seek supplies abroad in order to help manage debilitating symptoms of the menopause.
One respondent to the survey said difficulties trying to source medicines has caused them to hand in their notice after 35 years as a pharmacist. Another said their team felt “on a knife-edge” trying to obtain such drugs.
Dr Farah Jameel, of the British Medical Association, said: “There are lots of different reasons why drug shortages happen, but they are gradually getting worse and can have a serious effect on how quickly patients receive appropriate treatment.
“Practices often won’t know that a drug is in short supply until patients return from the pharmacy, and these extra GP appointments can dramatically add to their already burgeoning workload – as well as distressing patients.”
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has raised concerns about shortages of many contraceptive pills, warning that it could result in a rise in unplanned pregnancies.
It follows warnings about shortages of fluoxetine – commonly known as Prozac – as a result of manufacturing problems.
The Department of Health and Social Care has written to GPs urging them to contact their patients who take the drug to ask how many supplies they have at home.
Any patient with enough pills to last until November should not be issued with a repeat prescription, the magazine Pulse reported.
A separate survey by The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) in August suggested that around 21 per cent of prescription drugs had suffered shortages in the previous three months.
More than 90 per cent of respondents felt the shortages had increased over the previous year.
Alima Batchelor, head of policy at PDA said: “Whilst these shortages cannot be ascribed to Brexit, they do show the need for concerted action to ensure that leaving the EU will not exacerbate an already unacceptable level of drug shortages.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We fully understand the concerns of those who require medications in their daily lives and want to reassure them that we are doing everything appropriate so they can access the medicines they need. We have no evidence to suggest current or previous supply issues are linked to Brexit.
“The department is working with partners in industry and the health and care system to help ensure the supply of medicines and medical products remains uninterrupted after October 31, whatever the circumstances.”