Cancer drugs supply hit by service change

A switch by Royal Mail to using Glasgow Airport for mail plane deliveries to the Western Isles has created a “significant challenge” in ensuring timely delivery of short-life chemotherapy medicines for use in the islands.
A senior staff team is working to find a “safe and robust solution”A senior staff team is working to find a “safe and robust solution”
A senior staff team is working to find a “safe and robust solution”

​In June, Royal Mail is set to change the processing of mail bound for the islands from its Inverness mail centre to Glasgow, as part of its plan to reduce the use of planes with “more mail to be delivered via road and rail.”

This week, the Western Isles NHS Board confirmed that it has a senior staff team working to find a “safe and robust solution,” to the problem which concerns intravenous, or ‘parenteral’, chemotherapies.

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In a statement, the Board said that all chemotherapy requires consultant prescription via the ‘Chemocare’ system, which supports the governance, safety and legal requirements linked to chemotherapy, and confirmed that it mainly functions as part of an NHS Highland chemotherapy network.

A spokesperson said: “NHS Western Isles strives to obtain chemotherapy medicines from the Pharma pharmaceutical group, as these preparations tend to have a longer shelf life. Unfortunately certain chemotherapy medicines have a short shelf life, including under 24 hours from when the medicine is prepared.

“NHS Highland prepares our chemotherapy products, as it does for Caithness and the Belford hospitals and Raigmore itself. Currently these medicines are delivered by the mail plane from Inverness, supporting the delivery of chemotherapy on a Tuesday at Western Isles Hospital.

“With the mail plane moving to Glasgow, this presents a significant challenge to NHS Western Isles in the timely delivery of chemotherapy medicines.

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“Due to the issues surrounding Chemocare and the fact that all aseptic pharmacy services in Scotland are working at capacity the option of medicines being prepared elsewhere is not possible.”

Options currently being considered include using commercial flights and the ferry. However, these options will require,“scrutiny of safety and cold chain compliance,” and will need to comply with legal requirements for transporting cytotoxic drugs.

The Health Board warned that the proposed change in the delivery time will also require a review of its working practices, including staff rota.

In a statement, Royal Mail said that the change in delivery routes follows commitments set out in the ‘Business Recovery, Transformation and Growth’ agreement it signed with trade unions last summer, and said:

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“The change will ensure that we maintain or improve connectivity and service provision to the islands. The ongoing, timely nature of deliveries is being treated with the utmost importance.”

Cllr Uisdean Robertson, chair of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s transport committee, said: “Changes to service such as this should not be taken without early consultation with key local stakeholders. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is aware of the impact this decision will have on NHS Western Isles and has raised the issue with Transport Scotland Aviation and the Cabinet Secretary for Transport.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson confirmed that they are aware of the issue and are discussing possible ways forward, They added: “Royal Mail is a private company, with no requirement to consult with the Scottish Government on changes to its delivery routes.”