Hospitals have been ordered to ration prescriptions of the coronavirus “wonderdrug” Remdesivir after a shortage has left trusts without enough to go around.
Doctors have been told they must only give the drug to early-stage coronavirus patients, not to people who have already been admitted to intensive care units and placed on a ventilator.
An internal NHS memo says patients receiving the drug “should not be receiving ongoing mechanical ventilation” and prescriptions should be kept to five days because of a “supply disruption”.
NHS Trusts should also share their stocks of remdesivir with regional supply centres to ensure it is administered to patients who would benefit the most.
While the Department of Health maintains there “remain plenty of remdesivir supplies,“ deliveries of the drug to hospitals are likely to be disrupted until the end of October, the Telegraph understands.
A spokesman for the department did not respond to questions about why the drug’s supply had been delayed.
Remdesivir is an antiviral medication administered via injection that has been proven to inhibit the spread of the infection in patients and reduce the chance of them requiring intensive care.
It has been shown in trials to reduce recovery times from 15 to 11 days, but has not yet been shown to have an effect on mortality rates.
It is manufactured by the US pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, based in California.
There have been supply shortages across the world over the summer, especially in the United States during July.
The company says shortages are due to a lack of a “coordinated global supply chain” for distributing the drug.
Gilead has resisted calls to allow other companies to manufacture the drug, arguing that more producers would not solve supply issues.
In response to the global shortage, manufacturers in India and Pakistan have increased their supply.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are aware of a rise in the use of remdesivir in line with an increase in COVID-19 hospital cases.
“While there remain plenty of remdesivir supplies, we have asked the NHS to temporarily prioritise patients to ensure those most likely to benefit can access it.”
The department said patients were receiving other drugs including “dexamethasone or hydrocortisone which have been proved to save lives”.
The new eligibility criteria, which excludes the most vulnerable patients on ventilators, will apply across the UK, the Telegraph understands.