There will be enough drugs to treat critically ill patients in intensive care despite fears of drug shortages, senior medics have said.
But leaders in intensive care medicine and anaesthetics also warned that people should obey social distancing rules in order to reduce the burden on NHS resources.
Their comments come amid reports key medicines at some intensive care units were in short supply.
We are not going to run out of drugs to treat patients, that's the bottom line.Dr Alison Pittard
But speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference on Sunday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government was working with pharmaceutical industry to ensure the right medicines were in place.
He added: “I can assure everyone that we’re working very closely with the pharmaceutical supply chain and hospital pharmacies so that the right medicines are there to treat people.
“And I’m glad to see the reassurances that have been provided today that everybody can have the medicines they need in order to get the care that they need.”
Intensive care consultant Dr Ron Daniels told the BBC that quality of care for all intensive care patients – not just coronavirus sufferers – will “likely be lower” as a result.
But Dr Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said that the NHS was not going to run out of medicines to treat patients and that care will not be compromised.
She told the PA news agency that medics have been issued new guidance telling them to use alternatives which were “perfectly safe for patients”.
Dr Pittard added: “We are not going to run out of drugs to treat patients, that’s the bottom line.
“We may do things differently, but patient care won’t be compromised because we have to change the choice of drug.
“I want to reassure the public – we know what we are doing, we are working together, we know what the situation is, and we are making sure they are our first priority.”
We recognise the concerns of our members over drug demand, we would like to highlight that anaesthetic & ICU staff regularly manage drug stock levels through alternative medications & techniques & have extensive experience of delivering safe patient care https://t.co/oTqMhgEtR8 pic.twitter.com/dOAdN4kTCP— Royal College of Anaesthetists (@RCoANews) April 12, 2020
Her comments come as she released a joint statement with leaders of the Intensive Care Society, Association of Anaesthetists and Royal College of Anaesthetists.
In it, they said that while medics might not always be able to use their first choice drug, they expect them to be able to use an appropriate alternative drug.
Dr Pittard said: “There may be shortages of specific drugs but there are always alternatives in the same class that although staff will need to slightly modify their practice, they will be perfectly safe for patients.”
But the four leaders also stressed the public should continue to adhere to the Government’s guidance to stay at home.
They added: “By staying at home, not only will you significantly reduce the chance of being infected with Covid-19, but you will save lives by stopping the spread of this virus.
“Your compliant and considerate actions will help reduce the burden on NHS resources and staff who are working night and day to treat incredibly sick patients.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said it had banned the “parallel export” of more than 100 medicines to keep supplies in the UK.
A spokesman added: “As part of our concerted national efforts to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, we are doing everything we can to ensure patients continue to access the medicines they need.
“During this global pandemic there is in an increase in demand for a number of intensive care drugs and we are working with the pharmaceutical industry and NHS England to make additional supplies available and ensure they are managed fairly across the UK.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said earlier this month that the Government is “currently confident” that the UK has the supply of medicines needed.
Warwick Smith, director general of the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA), said manufacturers were working “extremely hard” to meet the unprecedented demand for intensive care medicines.
He added: “The very significant increase in the number of patients requiring mechanical ventilation in intensive care as a result of Covid-19 has inevitably led to an unprecedented demand for the medicines required for that treatment.
“We are currently seeing four-fold demand increases in some areas and so we are particularly focused on the supply of these critical products.
“Increasing production and supply to unprecedented levels in some cases cannot be achieved instantly but manufacturers are working extremely hard to help ensure the highest levels of supply possible.”