Growing concerns over medicines shortages

A new survey has given startling statistics, showing that 97% of pharmacists have reported increased shortages over the last 12 months. Irish patients are at risk due to shortages of medicines becoming an increasing problem, the survey shows.

This warning was issued by the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU), following a survey of its members.

Speaking about the survey findings, Darragh O’Loughlin, Secretary General of the IPU said, “Almost every pharmacist across the country reports experiencing a worsening of medicine shortages. It’s part of a pharmacist’s role to use their expertise and experience to source appropriate substitute medicines for patients but this is becoming an everincreasing challenge. The most worrying statistic is that almost half of pharmacists (48%) believe shortages are potentially impacting on patients’ health.

“The impact of COVID-19, Brexit and the falling price of medicines have all been identified by pharmacists as possible reasons why, in their opinion, medicine shortages persist. As we prepare for the upcoming winter season, with the threat of a second surge of COVID-19 hanging over us, there is a sense of foreboding that these shortages will get even worse in the months ahead.

“Our approach to medicine pricing is one of the biggest challenges we face,” according to Mr O’Loughlin. “Over half of pharmacists (55%) believe that HSE pricing policy is contributing to shortages. In Ireland we take a cost-based approach rather than being focussed on patients, which has resulted in significant reductions in medicine prices. However, too often that means when a global shortage emerges Ireland is at the back of queue, as a small country that is constantly driving down the price of medicines and unwilling to pay market prices.

“Since the onset of COVID-19 we have seen how other, larger, countries are competing for medicines, with the USA buying up the global supply of remdesivir during the summer and the UK pre-emptively ordering 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that is still being trialled. The Department of Health and the HSE need to take a realistic and pragmatic approach to medicine pricing to ensure that Irish patients do not end up going without as a result of a fixation on ever-lower prices.

“Then, in addition to everything else, Brexit will take its next steps in January, bringing yet more uncertainty, which is heightening concerns for pharmacists regarding its potential impact on medicines supplies.”

In conclusion, Mr O’Loughlin said, “It has been acknowledged that medicine shortages have long been an ongoing problem but with the added concerns over COVID-19 and with Brexit coming down the track it is imperative that all necessary steps are taken by the relevant authorities to ensure that there is a continuous and sufficient supply of medicines available to pharmacies and, in turn, to their patients.”

Key findings:

  • 97% of pharmacists report an increase in medicine shortages over the past 12 months. With 70% describing it as a “significant increase”;
  • During the peak of the COVID-19 emergency, 76% of pharmacists reported that medicine stock-outs increased;
  • 92% of pharmacists believe the problem will get worse in the next year; and
  • 48% believe their patients could suffer adverse outcomes as a result of these shortages.
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