Cork pharmacist warns of medication shortages

President of the Irish Pharmacy Union, Dermot Twomey, who owns CarePlus Pharmacy in Cloyne, expressed deep concern for the industry which he said is seriously under resourced at an extremely challenging time.
Cork pharmacist warns of medication shortages

Dermot Twomey, president Irish Pharmacy Union, warned that some pharmacists are leaving the sector in favour of alternative career paths. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

PHARMACISTS are calling for emergency measures to tackle medication shortages as pressure on the sector escalates.

Irish Pharmacy Union president Dermot Twomey, who owns CarePlus Pharmacy in Cloyne, expressed deep concern for the industry which he said is seriously under-resourced at an extremely challenging time.

Mr Twomey is now calling for a Serious Shortage Protocol to be introduced. This would allow pharmacists to substitute unavailable medicines in special circumstances.

“I don’t think, with the greatest respect, that the Government realises the level of work community pharmacists are having to do to solve these issues." 

Diabetes medicine Ozempic is one of the products now in dangerously low supply. This is due to an unexpected increase in demand prompted by the unauthorised prescribing of the drug for weight loss.

Mr Twomey said there is also a shortage of antibiotics, among other medications.

He said: “Ozempic is used to control sugar levels in diabetes. It also has an unlicensed role where it’s being used to help with weight loss. For this reason, there is a number of people that we can’t supply.

“The circulation of the RSV virus and increase in influenza and Covid have put a lot of pressure on the health system.

“As regards respiratory illnesses, one of the issues is a shortage in the number of key antibiotics, particularly in the penicillin family.

“Over the last number of weeks, that has led to difficulty with regard to meeting people’s demands in terms of time limits preparing prescriptions and the necessity to contact a doctor to explore alternatives where certain antibiotics are short.”

He also warned that some pharmacists are leaving the sector in favour of alternative career paths. A shortage of community pharmacists continues to aggravate existing problems.

“It’s still the case that products are short and that’s putting huge pressure on us from a resource perspective,” he said. 

“Not only are we facing the busiest time of the year, there is also a shortage of pharmacists willing to work in community pharmacies. 

"This is very challenging in addition to the shortage of key medicines and high influx of requests.”

He praised those working in the sector for their efforts to navigate the crisis.

“A lot of credit is owed to pharmacists and their teams, who are doing a phenomenal job putting their shoulder to the wheel and making sure everything comes in early,” he said.

“They have to make sure that everything is put away and they’re ahead of the game on a day-to-day basis. It hasn’t been easy. One thing we are looking for from a Government and minister perspective is to implement a Serious Shortage Protocol. The main concern is that on a daily basis we don’t know what is short or what is going to become short.”

He said that most customers have been understanding of the sector’s challenges.

“We are there to serve the public, and by and large people are understanding,” he said. “It’s not just taking a box off a shelf.

“There are a number of safety checks that need to be carried out by pharmacists to ensure that something is safe and appropriate, and assess how it will interact with other drugs. 

"Just like GPs, we are responsible. There needs to be an element of forbearance.”

He also spoke of how some pharmaceutical companies have ceased producing certain medications due to a lack of return on their investments.

“One of the main issues is the prices,” he said. “The Government are reimbursing the manufacturers, but it doesn’t make sense to produce these in the Irish market when taking into account the comparison in return.”

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