The UK Department of Health has advised the NHS that there is a supply problem with the opiate painkiller, diamorphine, and that stocks may rapidly reach a critical level in the next few weeks.
It issued guidance to prescribers on managing the potential shortfall of diamorphine and further information about alternative treatments for patients.
Diamorphine is used for the treatment of acute and chronic pain, for example in cancer patients and patients in intensive care and accident and emergency departments. It is also used in the treatment of people who are opioid dependant.
Diamorphine is available from two manufacturers, Chiron and Wockhardt UK. Chiron have told the Department of Health that they currently have limited supplies. It is unlikely that further supplies will be available from Chiron before the end of March. Limited supplies are also available from Wockhardt, who are expecting further stocks to be available from the end of January. The supply situation is likely to remain critical for the immediate future.
Professor Mike Richards, National Cancer Director, said:
"We have taken immediate action and are working hard to make sure that this potential shortfall does not, as far as possible, impact on the care and quality of life of patients.
"We are in contact with other companies to source extra supplies of morphine and other similar drugs. We are also assessing what stocks of these alternative medicines are already within the NHS to ensure that sufficient supplies of these alternatives are available.
"Patients and families should be reassured that we will do all we can to minimise the effect this disruption to supply may have."
Doctors, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals are being asked to take every possible step to conserve stocks of diamorphine injections for use in patients who have the greatest need eg. palliative care patients. Wherever possible, the use of alternative medicines should be considered.