Pharmacy Guild rebuked over scare campaign on medicine shortage

“However, I do not believe that the phased introduction of this new policy will significantly impact the shortage of those medicines included in this policy initiative.”

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That was because the majority of the 320 medicines recommended for 60-day prescribing had no supply shortages, he said. The phased introduction of the scheme – 100 medicines will come on board every six months from September 1 – also meant it was unlikely demand would surge.

“The transition will likely occur over a period of time. This will moderate the demand in the early days of the implementation,” Sansom said.

“Further, co-operation with Medicines Australia and the Generic Medicines Industry Association to ensure an increased availability of stock in anticipation of the introduction should also address transient demand issues.”

Sansom said medicines that could be affected were also mainly brands or formulations for which pharmacists were already managing to find suitable alternatives.

Current Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee chair Professor Andrew Wilson also provided advice on the issue to Health Minister Mark Butler last week.

There are seven medicines on the 60-day dispensing list that are in short supply in Australia without a suitable alternative: Dulaglutide (diabetes), Diltiazem hydrochloride (heart conditions), Eprosartan (hypertension), Nafarelim (endometriosis), Fluorometholone (inflammation in the eyes), Losartan potassium (high blood pressure) and Olsalazine sodium (ulcerative colitis).

However, that is mostly due to manufacturing issues that affect global supply.

Wilson said medicine shortages were determined by factors unrelated to the maximum dispensed quantity, and rarely isolated to Australia.

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As a result, he said the independent committee would not change its advice to government, which it originally gave in 2018.

“The number of patients and volume of medicines prescribed will not change significantly as a result of an increase in the maximum quantity,” Wilson wrote to Butler in a letter.

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Patients urged not to stockpile medicine amid shortages

Patients are being urged not to stockpile medicine as a number of products are unavailable. 

Currently, there are shortages of 241 medicines and 13 are on the Word Health Organisation’s ‘critical list’. 

Despite this, consultant respiratory physician Dr Marcus Butler warned against people buying more than they need. 

“It’s very important not to be stockpiling medication,” he said. 

“Partly because they can also go out of date… particularly the ones used on an as needed basis.” 

Unavailable items include certain types of eye drops and antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections. 

Although concerning, Dr Butler urged people to consult with professionals about taking alternative medication. 

“Some of these shortages are specific to a specific product,” he said. 

“But there are alternative, generic versions of the same product that ought to be available with guidance from the pharmacist. 

“And to also talk to their GP if it’s a prescription item where once again there may be an alternative option.” 

Azure Pharmaceuticals said the crisis is “persisting due to a lack of political interest” and Dr Butler said he was aware of patients “where their conditions worsened because of interruption to availability of, for example, asthma inhaler treatment, since the pandemic.” 

2B3KC6Y Sick boy lying in bed with pills and glass of water on foreground

Hay fever sufferer Orla said she is feeling extremely worried about the shortages as the pollen count rises. 

“Any time I start running low on my antihistamines, I start to panic,” she said. 

“I went to check this morning as well to see how many I have left to go and see if I can get some now to tide me over but also [I don’t want to] bulk buy because, obviously, there are people who need them ahead of me who don’t have any.” 

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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.”

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