Medicines Shortages Index finds Irish patients unable to access 212 medicines as widespread shortages increase

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212 different medicines needed by Irish patients are currently out of stock, an increase of 25 on last month as the country’s medicine supply chain and pricing challenges continue to impact healthcare on a daily basis, analysis published today has found.  

The medicines experiencing shortages are for use across a range of health areas, including respiratory and bacterial infections, strep throat, pneumonia, pain relief and blood pressure.  

There is a major shortage of over-the-counter (OTC) cough syrups for both adults and children, with pharmacists left scrabbling for alternatives. Sprays for sore throats, dissolvable paracetamol powder, and soluble aspirin are also widely unavailable.   

The Medicines Shortage Index

The analysis found that common medicines such as Amoxicillin and Penicillin, used to treat bacterial infections, and Cefalexin, commonly used to treat respiratory infections, are all currently unavailable from any supplier or source.

The shortage of Clarithromycin, used to combat strep throat and pneumonia, is also causing growing pressure as the three suppliers of the medicine—who account for over 50% of the market—are now also out of stock.  

For the second month running, we are seeing the scale of medicine shortages in Ireland and resulting impact on patients and those who care for them. It is the continuation of a trend that was first evident at the end of 2019 and has been continually worsening in the period since.

At a time when we are desperately trying to keep people out of our hospitals and provide adequate care in the community, leaving patients without access to their vital treatments has huge knock-on implications for the current crisis in our emergency departments. Existing high-level of sicknesses and hospital demand pressures risk being exacerbated further by the medicines shortages problems.

Sandra Gannon, Managing Director of Azure Pharmaceuticals

Reasons for medicine shortages

There are global and domestic factors at play but it is increasingly clear that Ireland is an outlier when compared to neighbouring countries. We are paying the price for a medicines agreement which failed to anticipate this scenario. 

The government has been slow to even acknowledge the problem resulting in an inadequate response to date. The UK government has moved to introduce new protocols to address the shortages issue, including a ban on exports of antibiotics and specific guidance to healthcare professionals on the options that are available. Here, we and others have provided supporting detail on all the factors driving this problem to decision-makers but continue to await a response.

Measures to tackle the problem

Opening the door to alternative sources for medicines which are currently single-source dependant needs to be fast-tracked. Medicines will continue to follow the best prices, and until Ireland can better compete globally in this regard, the shortages we’re seeing will continue. It is also time to reflect on the learnings of Covid, broaden our manufacturing base, and de-risk our dependency on particular markets.

The Medicine Shortage Index, compiled by Azure Pharmaceuticals, is informed by publicly available information on current medicine shortages supplied by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA). Analysis based on latest data evaluated as of 5 January 2023.