PHARMACISTS are hopeful they will be able to avert a shortage in the supply of the most widely prescribed antibiotic, Augmentin.
Supplies of the drug in tablet form for the Irish market mainly come from factories in the UK operated by Glaxosmithkline (GSK).
It is commonly used to treat illnesses such as chest infections but supplies will begin to reduce from the end of January and the problem will continue until well into next year.
The problem, which is linked to manufacturing and capacity difficulties in the factories, was flagged by the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU).
The HSE is trying to put contingency measures in place. However, after the shortage had been publicly aired yesterday, the IPU revealed that it was later contacted by other potential suppliers, including subsidiaries of drugs giants who indicated that they can provide alternative stocks for the Irish market.
Darragh O'Loughlin, head of the IPU, said the full details had yet to be clarified but added: "It now looks like we may be able to solve the problem before it impacts on patients."
Dr Nuala O'Connor, of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said: "While there appears to be a supply issue in relation to Augmentin and similar generics, we do not see this as something which should be a cause of concern amongst patients.
"There is a range of safe alternative and less expensive forms of antibiotics used, which are more appropriate as the first line of defence in situations where Augmentin is prescribed."
Doctors are advised to prescribe an alternative antibiotic and spare stocks of Augmentin for treatments where it is a first-line drug, such as human bites, some forms of cellulitis in the face or bad kidney infections.
Dr O' Connor has already written to all GPs outlining prescribing guidelines.
A spokeswoman for Glaxosmithkline said it had informed hospitals and pharmacists that it "was experiencing a production capacity issue, which may affect the ability to meet patients' demands for the drug in Ireland and other countries".
She added: "Based on current stock holdings, we expect to be able to supply the Irish market until the end of January 2014 for Augmentin 625mg tablets and Augmentin 375 tablets.
"However, we expect to stock-out in Ireland from those dates until the third quarter of the year."
Junior Health Minister Alex White said alternative generic manufacturers were being examined and the HSE had also been engaging with clinical experts to develop prescribing guidelines for doctors to find alternative treatment regimes.
He added: "This is going to be an evolving issue over the coming months. It is important to bear in mind however that there is currently no shortage of Augmentin and none is anticipated until November 2013."