Britons share home remedies amid cough medicine shortage

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Britons are coming together to share home remedies for coughs after leaving shops and pharmacies empty-handed amid a severe shortage of basic medicines across the country. The head of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies warned today many pharmacies are running out of cough and cold medicines like throat lozenges, cough mixtures and some painkillers at a time when cases of winter illnesses are soaring. 

Even some of the most basic treatments such as Lemsip and Nightnurse have reportedly been missing from shop shelves as pharmacies report that demand is “much higher than in years gone by” as a “twindemic” of Covid and flu rips through the nation.

This has left many sick Britons leaving pharmacies empty-handed while desperately needing treatment for their coughs. Amongst the crowd is legendary British actor and comedian John Cleese’s wife, who failed to find cough mixture when on the hunt in her local area this week.

Mr Cleese tweeted: “A lovely, totally sensible man who runs a small but excellent pharmacy near us, told my wife today that there was no cough mixture available. Anywhere… Please let me know any exceptions to this.”

But instead of sending Mr Cleese and his wife in the direction of a stocked-up pharmacy, his Twitter following filled the comments with simple home remedies that his wife could use as an alternative.

Jennifer Bredell wrote: “Make your own. Apple brandy or apple cider vinegar (or both), honey, a generous pinch of herb thyme, and boiling water to fill a large mug. Breath the steam and sip the potion as it cools. I’m so sorry it has come to this.”

Barbara Daugharty wrote: “Most cough syrup is a mixture of sugar, water and alcohol. You can mix honey with alcohol and hot lemon. Add hot water and you will take care of your cough nicely.”

And there was one remedy that Mr Cleese said proved to be “very helpful”. It was posted by Sue Sanders, who wrote: “Recipe for home made help. 1 shot Grand Marnier gently floated over a spoon into piping hot orange spice tea (Good Earth Original) that already has tbls of quality honey (Manuka is good). Inhale steam and sip.

“The alcohol is a cough suppressant. The honey is both soothing and has anti viral/bacterial properties, the steamy citrus and spice helps thin and loosen phlegm. Feels good going down too.”

According to the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies’ Chief executive Leyla Hannbeck, demand for cough medicines is so high because “we’ve seen higher cases of colds and flu and people are obviously trying very hard to look after themselves and making sure that they use the relevant products to manage the symptoms”.

In an interview with PA News Agency, she added: “That has led to a shortage of these products in terms of us not being able to obtain them.

“On the front line it is very difficult because we’re seeing these shortages but those people who are in charge of supporting us with it are denying it.”

Officials have urged people to keep children with a fever off school and called on unwell adults to wear face coverings to limit the spread of infections.

It comes amid an erupting crisis in the NHS as waiting lists pile up while critical incidents have soared in recent days. Ambulances have reportedly waited hours outside hospitals to transfer their patients, while patients have reported being checked in corridors and even cupboards as the health service gets overwhelmed.

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Health Secretary Steve Barkley has blamed the increased pressure on “a combination of very high rates of flu, persistent and high levels of COVID, continuing concerns particularly among many parents around Strep A”. He also argued that critical incidents are being reported because primary care services, like GP practices, were shut down for Christmas.

But those working in the health sector have argued that the crisis was a long-time coming, with many blaming underfunding and structural issues for the current situation.

Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, told Sky News: “The fundamental problem remains a significant shortage of workforce leading to woefully inadequate inpatient bed and social care capacity. Current levels of staff burn out and poor morale markedly exacerbate this issue.”

Adding to this, the cough and throat medicine shortage is proving to be an extra “concern”, although Ms Hannbeck has urged people not to “panic”.

She said: “We don’t want people to panic – as pharmacists we do everything we can to ensure we support patients in every way possible and try and sort alternatives, or give advice on how to manage cold and flu symptoms.” has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care to explain how it plans on addressing the issue. does not endorse taking home remedies as an alternative to medication.

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