Tuesday 27 June 2017

Cancer drugs will be back in hospitals by next week, Health Minister claims

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris
Cancer patients are suffering extra emotional stress as their treatment is interrupted. Picture posed
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

HEALTH Minister Simon Harris has moved to reassure cancer patients that the normal supply of life-saving chemotherapy drugs will be back in hospitals by next week, following a 'production fault' with Baxter Healthcare, the only company supplying these compounded drugs to public and private hospitals.

The problem means that oncologists in several hospitals are having to readjust the treatment they are giving to patients. These patients are reliant on the medication to treat their cancer or provide palliative care.

Due to the shortage, doctors have in some cases had to give patients a lower dose of the drug that they need. In other cases they have had to administer an oral rather than an intravenous therapy.

Baxter confirmed yesterday it was currently experiencing a 'temporary supply constraint' of compounded chemotherapy products and is working with compounding units in the UK to identify if any extra capacity can be utilised.

Minister Harris said he understands that production is scheduled to begin again on Monday, with supplies back in this country by Tuesday.

"The HSE and most importantly the National Cancer Control Programme are monitoring this extraordinarily carefully," he said.

"We have hospitals working together on an inter-hospital basis to provide each other with drugs," he added, saying: "Where one hospital has a shortage, another hospital is helping out."

Those hospitals with aseptic compounding facilities are compounding their own chemotherapy locally.

The National Cancer Control Programme has assured the Department of Health that all hospitals are examining their patient chemotherapy schedules based on individual clinical needs and priority. The teams caring for these patients are in contact with the patients and are arranging rescheduling appointments as required.

The Minister said it was important to acknowledge that "there is only one external provider to this country and that is Baxter," and said he will ask the HSE to continue to keep that under review.

"If there  are more people and more companies that can provide this drug, we absolutely need to provide it here."

"I do want to assure people that everything possible is being done to make the right clinical decision for patients," said the Minister.

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