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Coming up short on medicine supplies

By Irish Pharmacist - 06th Mar 2023

The Medicine Shortages Index is at 247, with new trend seen in supply shortfall of nasal sprays, inhalers and eye drops

Medicine shortages in Ireland continue to persist, with 247 different medicines used by Irish patients currently out-of-stock as a new trend affecting supply develops, according to the latest Medicine Shortage Index.

The latest figures show the number of medicine shortages in Ireland up an additional 19 medicines in short supply since the end of January, and a 38 per cent increase since the Index began in October.

Of the 247 medicines currently unavailable, 13 are listed on the World Medical Organisation’s (WHO) ‘critical medicines’ list. 

The latest shortages analysis indicates a new trend of medicines that are stored or delivered using plastic components now increasingly in short supply. These medicines include nasal sprays, inhalers for the treatment of asthma, and 11 different eye drop products.

Other medicines still in short supply across multiple suppliers in the past week include those that treat epilepsy, and medicines used for the treatment of high blood pressure.

Antibiotics

Many antibiotics, like amoxicillin and penicillin, and commonly used over-the-counter medicines like Benylin and Dioralyte, are still difficult for patients to source.

The Medicine Shortage Index, prepared by Azure Pharmaceuticals, analyses data made publicly available by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).   

Other European countries have already taken specific policy measures to date in response to the escalating medicine shortage issue. Portugal, the UK, Germany, and Switzerland have all taken a range of price-related policy measures in response to the problem, including price increases for lower-priced medicines. 

Sweden, Denmark and Malta, which all use tenders to set reimbursement prices, have all experienced price increases due to lack of supply of core medicines. To date, the Irish Department of Health is yet to meaningfully respond to this deepening challenge.

Medicine shortages will continue to grow incrementally unless political will is shown in Ireland to take measures, like those carried out by other EU nations, to meaningfully tackle the issue.

Pricing

Ms Sandra Gannon, Azure CEO, said: “One of the means we have to protect our domestic supply of stock, to prevent these important medicines from running out, is through pricing. Other European countries have already recognised this fact and taken measures to mitigate against situations where their stocks run out. For example, Portugal recently raised its pricing by up
to 5 per cent for cheap medicines.

“Weaknesses in the supply chain alone highlight the imperative of revisiting the pricing framework for medicines to protect supply of stock and protect Irish patients.”

Commenting on the perception that medicine shortages are a result of exceptional circumstances and are a one-off situation, Ms Gannon pointed to the level of EU activity on the topic, as well as the focus of the European Medicines regulator (EMA) on medicine shortages as evidence that this problem is not going away without serious intervention and planning. 

“There’s an awareness in other European countries that market-related factors need to be tackled. Medicines shortages are not just winter-specific, and shortages are not only occurring as a result of exceptional circumstances. There are systemic factors that need resolution.

“Each patient has different needs and reducing the problem down to exceptional circumstances alone diminishes the quality of life impact that each patient experiences with their illness.”

Medicine shortages experts from Europe and Ireland recently said in Dublin, at a panel discussion examining medicine shortages, that the situation will continue to worsen without the political will to implement measures that put the needs
of patients first. ?

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