Anaesthetic drugs in intensive care units treating coronavirus patients are running short, specialists warned on Sunday.
The Royal College of Anaesthetists confirmed claims from its professionals that key medicines in hospitals were “in relatively short supply” and supply is “a bit stretched”.
Dr Ron Daniels, an intensive care consultant in the West Midlands, had previously told the BBC that his hospital was “running low” on propofol, a commonly used anaesthetic, and alfentanil, an opioid painkiller.
Keith Ridge, the chief pharmaceutical officer of NHS England, is also said to have privately expressed concerns about the availability of some drugs.
Certain types of sedatives and painkillers are the main drugs under pressure, but the college maintained it had the reserves to cope.
“Early and co-ordinated action by anaesthetists, intensivists and pharmacists, and our on-going close collaboration with NHS England will preserve key drugs for those who need them,” a spokeswoman for the college told the Telegraph.
However, Dr Daniels said: “We are also in short supply of noradrenaline, used to treat life-threateningly low blood pressure, and are now using these drugs only on people who really need them and using older drugs on people who need less intensive support.”
Four leading colleges and health organisations have asked staff to “act immediately”. The college responded, saying: “While we may not always be able to use our first choice drug, we expect to be able to use an appropriate alternative drug, therefore ensuring that all patients will receive effective medication when needed.
“This action will help us continue to provide safe anaesthesia and effective and compassionate intensive care.”
Dr Julia Patterson, founder of medical campaign group EveryDoctor, said she was aware of GPs and palliative care consultants who were also concerned about shortages.
She says one ICU consultant in London, who is worried about stocks of muscle relaxants and anaesthetic drugs, has told her that the NHS is working to increase stocks but the situation is “extremely concerning”.
In a statement, the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are aware there is an increase in demand for a number of intensive care drugs and we are working with the pharmaceutical industry to make additional supplies available. We are working closely with industry, the NHS and the relevant national expert groups to ensure precautions are in place to reduce the likelihood of shortages.”