Sunday 22 April 2018

Revealed: Hospitals running out of cancer drugs

Technical difficulties by main supplier have halted IV drug delivery

Cancer patients are suffering extra emotional stress as their treatment is interrupted. Picture posed
Cancer patients are suffering extra emotional stress as their treatment is interrupted. Picture posed
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Cancer patients across the country are facing treatment difficulties due to a shortage of life-saving chemotherapy drugs, the Irish Independent has learned.

The drugs, which are commercially compounded, are administered intravenously.

However, Baxter Healthcare, the only company supplying these compounded drugs to public and private hospitals, has been unable to provide full supplies over the last two weeks.

It 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.

The therapy has to come in the correct dose which has been prescribed for that particular patient.

However, due to the shortage, doctors have in some cases had to give the patient a lower dose of the drug.

In other cases, they have had to administer an oral rather than intravenous therapy, even though it is not part of the patient's treatment plan.

A spokeswoman for Baxter confirmed it is currently experiencing "a temporary supply constraint" of compounded chemotherapy products which it provides to a number of public and private hospitals in Ireland.

"We are doing all we can to restore production capacity as quickly as possible and minimise the impact to patients.

"We are working with other Baxter compounding units in the UK to identify if any extra capacity can be utilised," she added.

Baxter is also "advising hospitals to identify alternative supply arrangements and [is] working diligently to revalidate equipment, which is necessary to resume production."

Read More: The risk of an over-reliance on one supplier of vital drugs was signalled two years ago

The spokeswoman said: "We expect to resume production next week. We would like to sincerely apologise to patients and clinicians for this situation and reiterate our commitment to resolution as soon as possible."

However, Dr Ray McDermott, an oncologist in Tallaght Hospital and St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, said he is very concerned at the development which is causing unnecessary disruption to cancer patients.

Around three-quarters of these chemotherapy products are compounded by hospitals at their own in-house facilities .

But the hospitals alone are not able to cope with the demands from the rising number of patients with cancer.

"We have one supplier and that is not satisfactory," said Dr McDermott.

Some hospitals have had to put contingency plans in place, working longer hours to produce more compounded drugs. But most have been particularly hit by the sudden nature of the shortage .

Smaller hospitals where patients attend for the treatment are in the worst difficulty.

Baxter Healthcare became the monopoly supplier of compounded chemotherapy two years ago after it took over the Irish company Fannin Compounding, which was experiencing stoppages in its insulator machines.

At the time there were warnings about the significant reduction this would result in in the commercial supply of chemotherapy products to hospitals.

Chemotherapy involves several treatment sessions, typically spread over the course of a few months.

Apart from chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells, patients may undergo surgery or radiotherapy.

Every three minutes in Ireland someone gets a cancer diagnosis.

In Ireland an average of 40,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year and the incidence is growing.

Irish Independent

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