Medicine shortages are likely to “significantly worsen” without some intervention in the market, according to the industry group representing companies that provide the bulk of medicines into the Irish market.
Close to 190 medicines licensed in Ireland are currently unavailable, according to a list maintained by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA). They include a range of commonly used penicillin and amoxicillin products that are in high demand as doctors and hospitals contend with a surge in infections.
Some are not expected to be available until the middle of March and others have, as of now, no return date.
Figures show that of the infectious diseases tracked by the HSE, 44 are showing increased case numbers this year while just 11 have lower numbers.
Much of the current wave of infection is attributed to the impact of Covid lockdowns when isolation meant younger children, in particular, did not pick up the infections they might normally do and therefore built up no immunity to them. That cohort is running into those infections for the first time this year alongside the younger toddlers who would normally do so for the first time each winter.
But they are also running into shortages of the key drugs normally used to treat them.
Medicines for Ireland, which represents the generics industry that provides the bulk of medications to the Irish health system by volume – including long-established but critical drugs like penicillin and amoxicillin – says soaring energy and transport costs, inflation and “supply chain disturbances” have seen thousands of generic medicines disappearing from the Irish and European markets.
They have urged the Government to heed recent warnings from pharmacists and GPs across the State on the growing risk of shortages of key medicines.
“As a small market, Ireland is more likely to be badly impacted by inflationary pressure and, as costs continue to rise, market conditions will become increasingly unviable for companies supplying generic medicines to Irish hospitals and pharmacies,” said Padraic O’Brien, chairman of Medicines for Ireland. “Additionally, in some cases, our reimbursement prices for certain medicines are too low compared with other EU countries.
“Price adjustments in Ireland are historically downward only, where other European countries employ flexible pricing mechanisms that allow reimbursement prices to rise for medicines that are in short supply. Ireland does not have such a mechanism and is, therefore, further disadvantaged,” Mr O’Brien said.
He said a survey of the group’s members found that 91 per cent had faced increased manufacturing or import costs this year in Ireland and all anticipated rising transport costs over the next year or two.
Mr O’Brien is calling on the Government and the HSE to revisit the recent framework agreement on the supply and pricing of drugs to find a way of mitigating the potential for shortages.
“Our aim is to deliver industry insights and extend our expertise to help improve the development of medicinal pricing and procurement policies in Ireland and safeguard the supply of medicines to Ireland,” Mr O’Brien said.