A Mullingar pharmacist is offering reassures to people that they don’t “need to be overly concerned that they will not get their medicines” despite recent headlines about shortages.
Eamonn Brady of Whelehans Pharmacy says that there some medicines are in short supply, but pharmacists work together to make sure patients are not affected. He said: “Not all pharmacists are out of stock of lines currently listed as short; for example, in Whelehans we have stock of all lines and many pharmacies share supply with other pharmacies, so when one pharmacy is short, their neighbouring pharmacy often provide them with stock, which is something Whelehans and many pharmacies in Mullingar do.”
Mr Brady said that more than 200 medicines currently not available in Ireland. The reason, he said, is that ,the number of cases of Covid, flu and RSV has risen significantly in the last month, and the medicine shortages relate mainly to respiratory and bacterial infections, strep throat, pneumonia and pain relief. Some epilepsy medicines are also in short supply, he said.
Mr Brady said over-the-counter (OTC) remedies relating to colds and flus, such as cough syrups for adults and children are out of stock, cough mixtures, sprays for sore throats, dispersible paracetamol and soluble aspirin. Common antibiotics such as amoxicillin and penicillin, used to treat the likes of bacterial throat infections, and cefalexin, commonly used to treat respiratory infections, are currently unavailable from suppliers.
The epilepsy drugs clonazepam and phenytoin are out of stock from suppliers.
Diabetes drug Ozempic remains on strict allocation after it became known to help with weight loss, which increased demand.
Many of the medicines currently in short supply are due to be back in stock in February. Where some individual medicines are in short supply, alternative options such as alternative strengths, brands, and generic medicines, remain available to ensure continuity of treatment.
Reasons for shortages
Mr Brady said: “As in other sectors, globally pharmaceutical companies medicines will direct medicines to countries that pay the best prices and in certain cases this is why we are currently seeing the shortages at the moment – however, nearly all countries are seeing shortages of certain medicines currently.”
The Health Product Regulatory Authority (HPRA), who regulate medicines in Ireland, note that ‘in some cases, this demand has been two to three times the normal level seen during the same period in previous years’.
The surge in respiratory infections means that pharmaceutical companies could not keep up with demand in recent weeks.
Mr Brady said: “Forty per cent of the medicines that are currently out of stock have only a single supplier, whereas the equivalent figure for Europe is 25%; this shows that for a small market of 6 million people, there are fewer medicines licenced in Ireland, which can make shortages more likely here.
“To compound the problem, the UK government introduced new protocols to address medicines shortages, which include a ban on exports of antibiotics and specific guidance to healthcare professionals on the options that are available. The UK export ban has led to some shortages of medicines in Ireland, like paracetamol liquid.”
No need to stockpile
The HPRA has urged patients and the general public ‘not to seek supplies of medicines over and above their normal requirements. Doing so would disrupt existing stock levels and hamper the supply of medicines for others’.
Mr Brady said that pharmacies sharing supply with other pharmacies helps ensure supply for all patients.
“To put it in perspective, the 200 medicines currently short makes up less than five per cent of all medicines. Pharmaceutical companies, wholesalers, pharmacies and GPs are all working together to ensure supply so patients being left without essential medicines is rare.”
Call for ‘serious shortage protocol’
Pharmacists have called on the health minister to introduce a serious shortage protocol in Ireland. That would allow pharmacists to dispense alternative medicines like antibiotics without need to contact GPs when they are short. It would save pharmacist and GP time as at the moment a pharmacist has to contact the GP every time a medicine is short to suggest an alternative, which has been time consuming in recent weeks.
“It would use pharmacists’ expertise to switch to a safe therapeutic alternative.”