The HSE has taken steps to allow doctors see exactly what medicines are currently available to treat the surge in winter respiratory infections following concern about delays in patients getting access to medication.
Pharmacists and patients have been reporting delays in filling prescriptions because of shortages of certain drugs and the need to contact busy GPs in order to organise alternative treatment options. The problems has been exacerbated by the number of people availing of out-of-hours services where doctors are more difficult to trace.
The Department of Health in a statement released on Monday night said the HSE had created a specific web page to allow prescribers access to the live supply status of products before prescribing for a patient. It said this page was being updated daily in co-operation with the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), which regulates and monitors the supply of medicines in the Irish market.
The Department of Health statement said alternatives were available for any drug that was currently affected by supply issues. The statement comes in response to the second in a new series of monthly analyses of medicine shortages in the Irish market by Azure Pharmaceuticals, a company that manufactures and supplies generic medicines.
“There are none that do not have a therapeutic alternative that can be used to meet patient needs,” it said. “Shortages of certain paracetamol, amoxicillin or penicillin products relate to individual line items which may be single elements within a product range. They do not represent the entire portfolio.
“For example, a pack of 100 paracetamol tablets from a specific supplier may be listed while multiple alternative presentations may continue to be supplied, such as a 24-pack and 500-pack,” the Department said.
“As of January 16th, 2023, there are 209 notifications listed,” the Department said, although at the time the statement was released the HPRA was listing 214 items affected by supply issues.
The Department noted, for context, that are approximately 6,000 individual medicines authorised for the Irish markets. It added that no company had cited price as a reason for current shortages of products in discussions between the manufacturers and the HPRA.
However, in an interview on RTÉ on Monday, Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher said Europe needed to act to stop countries bidding against each other for supplies of medicines that were in short supply.
“The Department of Health is working closely with all stakeholders to mitigate the current immediate medicines shortage issues daily,” it said, adding that, following engagement with the HPRA, “several suppliers have increased production and sourced additional stock to respond to the recent increase in demand”.
It said the HPRA was involved in an new EU-wide initiative to increase antibiotic supply and co-ordinate on operational issues around current shortages in several EU states.