It’s a familiar story of panic that plays out every time the Government makes a tectonic policy change. Panic that stems from the fear of medicine supplies running short at chemist’s shops.

The fears this time were not unfounded. Covert messages had been doing the rounds since May, urging people to stock up on critical medicines in the event of a shortage after the start of GST. As D-day got closer, the messages became more overt as online pharmacies also alerted customers to stock up. The reasons for anticipating a shortage varied from lack of clarity on GST to more practical reasons, like the time required to change computer systems to reflect all GST requirements.

Last year too when the Government made its dramatic demonetisation announcement, the initial days saw people being turned away from chemist stores, never mind if customers were low on their diabetes or blood pressure pills. The Government has its reasons to initiate policy changes on one sacrosanct date. But given the dismay it triggers involving medicine supplies and health services, a more practical view needs to be taken. Despite the efforts of the regulator, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, in publicising helplines to report medicine shortages and despite the rare truce between the pharma industry and retailers (both commending the other on being better prepared this time to keep supplies running), the truth is that short supplies are inevitable for various reasons including plain logistics.

A Mumbai or Delhi may not report shortages but suburban areas with fewer chemists could tell a different tale, one that could grow grimmer as you move to smaller and more remote areas. The Government needs to tread carefully on huge policy changes, giving drug-makers and retailers an expanded (maybe months-long) transition period. Making people panic and run around for their medicine is unbecoming of any Government, let alone one that runs the country hailed as being “pharmacy” to the world.

Deputy Editor