Ongoing shortages of key medicines including paracetamol, antibiotics, HRT and antihistamines have created a “frightening” scenario for community pharmacists.
Driven by a “perfect storm” of supply chain issues, pharmacies nationwide are experiencing daily battles to source medications.
Among those recorded by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) as being in short supply are antibiotics such as azithromycin and calvepen.
Ann-Marie Horan, of Fortfield Pharmacy in Terenure, Dublin, described the supply difficulties as “the worst it has ever been”.
“There is a wider range of drugs going short now than there ever was before. It has been going on for a while,” she said.
“But in the last year and even in the last two months, you wouldn’t know what’s going to go short next. It’s frightening. Sometimes people are left waiting or have to switch to different drugs.
“For example, HRT patches – we’re now cutting them to give different strengths. I don’t think at this point any terrible harm has been caused to anyone, but this situation is getting worse – that’s the worry. Who knows what the future holds?”
Ms Horan has seen the same supply issues arise with other common medications such as antihistamines.
“Telfast is a new antihistamine that came off prescription last summer,” she said.
“I sold quite a lot of it, and when I tried to reorder it I found it’s not there. Another potentially quite serious shortage I found is with calvepen, an antibiotic.
“It’s phenoxymethylpenicillin, one of the most basic antibiotics, and doctors use it a lot.
“Another product running very short is Cavilon cream for pressure sores. Again, it’s not lifesaving, but it gives people comfort and it’s upsetting for them when we can’t get it.”
Gerard Coffey, a community pharmacist involved in three Life Pharmacies in east Mayo, said the issue “is shocking and painful”.
“The usual line trotted out is that the cause of shortages is Brexit, but it’s not – it’s a variety of reasons. You’re left wondering, what am I going to do now?” he said.
“Just today, for example, I am completely out of paracetamol – a basic but essential drug.
“I was talking to a company this morning and the issue is that one of the active ingredients in the production of paracetamol is difficult to get.”
A spokesperson for the HPRA said: “Medicine shortages are increasingly prevalent worldwide over the past decade. The causes of such shortages are multifactorial, including shortages of raw materials, manufacturing difficulties, increased demand, product recalls due to potential quality defects and industry consolidations.
“Medicine shortages can originate at any point in the supply chain and can involve and impact many different stakeholders.
“Accordingly, medicine shortages require a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder response to ensure patient safety, continuity of care and protection of public health.
“The HPRA works with stakeholders, including the HSE, for an effective approach to co-ordinating the management of medicine shortages.
“In the case of medicines used most often in Ireland, there are typically multiple forms, strengths, brands and generic medicines available from a range of sources.
“In the event that there are some supply issues for individual medicines, it is expected alternative options such as alternative strengths, brands and generic medicines will be available to ensure continuity of treatment.
“In some cases where the medicine originally prescribed for the patient is unavailable, patients may be switched to a suitable therapeutic alternative following appropriate consultation with a healthcare professional.”