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NHS funding cuts ‘forcing people to buy medicine through Facebook’

Desperate people denied treatment due to NHS funding cuts are risking their health by buying and self-administering medication from overseas countries despite serious concerns the tablets may be harmful. Doctors have warned patients could be risking their lives by using the so-called “buyers clubs” which have emerged in groups on social media sites such as Facebook. The online networks link up people denied medicine on the NHS with pharmacists in India and Australia who can then form their own sales agreements together, before the tablets are dispensed and posted them to homes in the UK.

Buyers, sellers and pharmacists say the medication is being dispensed in this way to an increasing number of British patients for conditions including hepatitis C, HIV and some forms of cancer. Critics say the practice is “a national embarrassment” which encapsulates how the NHS’ funding crisis has spiralled out of control and is pushing desperate people to potentially risk their health to access essential treatment they have been denied due to financial limits.

Medication can be much cheaper overseas as drugs have different licences in different countries. A drug costing thousands of pounds in England can therefore be produced for less than a hundred pounds in India or other developing countries. Pharmacists say they are generic forms of the same treatment, meaning they have the same effects for a fraction of the costs. Although it is not possible for the NHS as an organisation to order such medication in bulk from the countries, a loop hole emerges as individuals are entitled to import cheap generic drugs for personal use. Therefore, it is not illegal for individual patients to get medication from overseas in this way.

However, experts warn that people who do so have no way of knowing if the medicine which arrives is real. They have cautioned the drugs could be placebo or “empty” pills, or in a worst case scenario be actively dangerous. In addition, while doctors are able to monitor patients’ health during normal prescriptions, they cannot monitor patients who order pills in this way to the same extent, prompting concerns that they are vulnerable if an adverse reaction occurs.

The Independent – 15th September 2016