Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs)

Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs)

This webpage contains general information about what SSPs are and when they may be used. For details of the Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) currently in place, please visit this webpage.

One of the diverse range of measures to prepare for a no-deal Brexit which will directly impact on community pharmacies is the possible introduction of Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs).

The protocols, for use in the event of a serious shortage of a medicine, may give community pharmacies the ability to dispense less, or give a different strength, or pharmaceutical form, or provide an alternative generic product, or provide an alternative product; following appropriate discussions with the patient. It is envisaged that where a serious shortage of a medicine occurs, it would have its own SSP which will need to be developed carefully, involving senior clinicians.

PSNC Briefing 023/19: Serious Shortage Protocols – A guide for community pharmacy teams
This PSNC Briefing describes how SSPs will work in practice and provides guidance on what you need to do if and when an SSP is put in place.

Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) webinar
View the on-demand version of PSNC’s webinar describing what SSPs may involve and explaining the endorsement and claiming process. You can also click here to view the slide pack used in the webinar. Note: The webinar refers to old SSP endorsing guidance. Please refer to PSNC’s updated SSP endorsing guidance.

How SSPs will operate

Key aspects of SSPs are that they will be:

  • proposed only if in the opinion of the Minister there is a serious shortage;
  • developed with the involvement of clinicians;
  • issued only in exceptional circumstances;
  • more likely to be for alternative quantity, strength or pharmaceutical form;
  • less likely to be for generic or therapeutic substitution; and
  • while introduced due to the possibility of a no-deal exit from the EU, their introduction is not dependent on it.

SSPs will link to a patient’s prescription although, formally, supply to the patient will be against the SSP. SSPs may be used to reduce the quantity of medicine dispensed, to save community pharmacy stock, or may be used to provide a different strength product, a product of a different formulation (e.g. a capsule instead of a tablet) or a generic instead of a branded product; or rarely an alternative product. Contractors will need to consider whether supply against the SSP is both reasonable and appropriate, subject to the SSP protocol conditions.

For further information, please see our briefings:

Pharmacy system-specific guidance

Pharmacy system suppliers have informed PSNC that system-specific SSP endorsing guidance will be made available and PSNC has offered its support to suppliers in producing such guidance including guides or how-to videos. Guidance currently available includes:

*Guidance with an asterix may not reflect the changes to endorsing requirements following the introduction of the new SSP endorsement from 1st June 2021.

Note: Other suppliers not listed above should also provide guidance for the users of their system.

Please speak to your system supplier for the latest system-specific SSP endorsing guidance, or if you suggestions about how to improve the SSP functionality available within your system.

Read more about how to request guidance or improved features: Making your system work for you and Feeding back or reporting about EPS.

Fees and funding

In 2019/20 a contingency of £10 million is being set aside to fund any supplies made in accordance with SSPs. If an SSP is introduced, contractors will receive a fee of £5.35 per item for any necessary supply in accordance with SSPs (in addition to usual dispensing fees for the item). Should this £10m contingency budget not be needed, it will be paid to contractors in the Transitional payments from February 2020. Further information is available on our CPCF settlement: 2019/20 to 2023/24 webpage.

Regulatory provisions

Legislation on SSPs was laid before Parliament in early 2019 and is included in (but separate to) UK legislation implementing the final provisions of the EU Falsified Medicines Directive and Delegated Regulation. This followed consultation between the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and stakeholders, including PSNC and other pharmacy representative bodies. This legislation provides the legal basis for the introduction of SSPs.

On 1st July 2019, amendments to the National Health Service (Pharmaceutical and Local Pharmaceutical Services) Regulations 2013 introduced the Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) into the terms of service for NHS community pharmacies


A consultation was held on urgent changes to the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 to ensure the continuity of supply of medicines (including in a ‘no deal’ Brexit).

PSNC responded to the DHSC consultation on SSPs and we are pleased to see that our comments and observations have been taken on board. The changes should help by giving DHSC a framework to follow to manage serious shortages of medicines, as and when they do occur.

PSNC also welcomes the speed with which DHSC has consulted on the proposed legislation and that the legislation is likely to come into force in early February 2019, but work to address the practical issues associated with any introduction must now begin.

The practical issues are considerable and PSNC has sought to identify them in our response. We will continue to work closely with DHSC to ensure that the introduction of any SSP is practical for community pharmacy and that any costs incurred are recognised.

PSNC supports the introduction of the SSPs as a way to help community pharmacists manage medicines shortages and is working with DHSC to ensure that they are implemented safely and effectively.

Read PSNC’s response to the DHSC consultation

Read the DHSC consultation response

Return to the Brexit and Community Pharmacy index page.

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