Medicines Shortages Index high with Irish patients unable to access 228 medicines as widespread shortages worsens

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Shortages up 41 in just six weeks, 16 additional medicines out-of stock in past three weeks alone

Medicine shortages continue to worsen with 228 different medicines used by Irish patients currently out-of-stock, a rise of 16 in just three weeks and 41 since early December. The latest figures mark an Index high in the number of medicine shortages in Ireland, and a 28% increase over the past four months. Of the 228 medicines currently unavailable, 12 are listed on the World Medical Organisation’s (WHO) ‘critical medicines’ list.

The latest shortages analysis indicates shortages of commonly used and prescribed medicines. These include Codeine based products like Solpadeine™, over-the counter/prescription eye drops, ointments and creams, and Ibuprofen. Other medicines experiencing shortages include treatments for pain relief, infections, anxiety and sleep disorders, seizures, blood pressure, diabetes.

The Medicine Shortage Index, prepared by industry experts, Azure Pharmaceuticals, analyses data made publicly available by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

In keeping with recent trends, 38% of the medicines out-of-stock have just a single supplier, leaving pharmacists without alternatives for patients. It also leaves Ireland out of sync with the rest of Europe, with a recently published European Commission report showing the EU wide singled-sourced average standing at 25%. Among the 12 out of stock medicines on the WHO critical medicines list are Amoxicillin and Penicillin, commonly prescribed antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections and as well as a medicine to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia.

The scale of medicine shortages continues to worsen with considerable knock-on impact on patients and those who care for them. Our analysis shows that since we began collecting the data in October, the number of medicine shortages has risen by 28%. There are international factors at play but yet again, we are seeing Ireland out-of-sync with other countries. Primary among these is price differential. Ireland is paying up to four times less than neighbouring countries and as a result, the medicine supply is following the money.

Sandra Gannon, Managing Director of Azure Pharmaceuticals

“There is an element of misguided hope that the end of flu season and a rise in temperatures will make medicine shortages disappear. But the evidence shows that since the end of 2019, this problem was coming. Hope has no place in policy making. It is time to meaningfully engage. Patients and pharmacists deserve no less.”

On pricing, Gannon pointed to recent comments by the Executive Director of the European medicines agency (EMA), Emer Cooke in an RTÉ interview.
“The EMA has a pan-European remit informed by international insights. For its Executive Director to therefore identify price as one of the contributory factors to medicine shortages is a highly significant moment in this debate.

Price is a policy measure, not a regulatory one.

“It is premature to say the Department of Health is burying its head in the sand. But there are signs that it is adopting a stance that is contrary to prevailing opinion, its own evidence, and the actions of other countries.
“Naturally, government will want to control costs, particularly given the strains on health spending. It should and it can. The Department finds itself in a position to actually reduce costs while simultaneously addressing prices.”

Pricing has to be considered as a leading factor when it comes to a security of sup-
ply, Ms Gannon added: “Informed by the EU commissioned report on medicine shortages, the Department of Health could save money annually by deploying existing policy measures available to them.

“By extending the ‘basket of prices’ approach to older medicines, just as we currently do for the reimbursement of new medicines, Ireland would pay the average of 14 other EU countries. This, along with other measures, would enable manufacturers to pivot and thus alleviate shortages.”