Inhalers, antibiotics among medicines in short supply

Eye drops used to treat allergic eye conditions including hayfever are among some 247 medicines currently in short supply.

The latest figures from the Medicine Shortages Index also shows continued shortages of up to 30 antibiotics, but pharmacists say alternative medicines are available.

The Index, compiled by pharmaceutical company Azure using weekly data from the Health Products Regulartory Authority, also found that of the medicines currently unavailable, 13 are listed on the World Medical Organization’s ‘critical medicines’ list.

Current shortages include nasal sprays, inhalers for the treatment of asthma and 11 different eye drop products, as well as 30 antibiotics, certain strengths of aspirin, some brands of blood pressure tablets and a number of tranquillisers.

Pharmacists, like Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) President Dermot Twomey, who runs the Cloyne Pharmacy in County Cork, say the problem has become more acute in the past 12 to 14 months.

“This time last year it was hormonal replacement therapy medicines, around the wintertime it was antibiotics, in particular – so medicines dip in and out – but for the moment, there are a number of hay fever medicines that have gone short but I suppose the key message really for the public is that there are alternatives available and speak to your pharmacist who will look at what the best alternatives are.”

As President of the IPU, he is urging the Government to consider the introduction of a ‘Serious Shortage Protocol’ like they have in the UK which would allow pharmacists to substitute in areas where certain medicines are short without recourse to the GP.

“That would be good for the patient because it would speed up time. Good for the pharmacist and their team because they would be empowered to do these jobs, so that’s something we are having positive discussions on.”

In a statement, the Department of Health said that while individual brands or strengths of a medication “may be temporarily unavailable, for most medicines supplied in Ireland, there are alternatives, such as different strengths, brands or similar classes, to ensure continuity of care”.

The Department said shortages of medicines are not unique to Ireland and “there is no evidence that shortages disproportionately impact patients in Ireland compared to other countries”.

It added that the Department is “scoping the introduction” of a limited stock supply framework like the ‘Serious Shortage Protocol’ in the UK, which would only “be used in certain emergency situations such as shortages“.

“This is the case in all other countries that have a protocol in place. Legislative amendments will be required.

“There are risks associated for both the pharmacist and the patient with substituting prescriptions and the Department will need to be satisfied that these risks are addressed”.

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