CONCERNS have been raised about the medication crisis in Cork, as drastic rationing measures impact pharmacies across city and county.
Irish Pharmacy Union president Dermot Twomey, who owns CarePlus Pharmacy in Cloyne, described how supply chains are effectively rationing a number of products as the drug shortage shows no signs of wavering.
Some of the cohorts seriously affected include epilepsy and diabetes sufferers. A recent IPU survey revealed that six in 10 pharmacists were fearful medicine shortages will affect the overall health outcomes of a number of patients. This has prompted fresh calls for the introduction of a Serious Shortage Protocol, which would allow pharmacists substitute unavailable medicines in special circumstances.
“We have a list of products on allocation,” Mr Twomey explained.
“This means there is a certain amount coming into the country but it is divided out or effectively rationed between pharmacies. There are some key lines where stock runs short on occasion, which can have significant ramifications for patients.”
He offered an example of a patient living with epilepsy. “We had one recent case where epilepsy medications went short. There wasn’t a liquid alternative available, but we were able to source one. However, it wasn’t an exact dose equivalent and a calculation had to be done to find a suitable dose. We also had to get a prescriber to prescribe it. Trying to come up with so many solutions has become extremely stressful for pharmacists. In that situation, I should have been able to make that substitution. Changes to legislation allowing pharmacists to make decisions would make both our lives and the lives of patients a lot easier.”
Meanwhile, Dr John Sheehan, who is a GP at Blackpool Bridge surgery, and a Fianna Fáil local councillor, said the availability of a drug is often determined by profit margins.
“The problem with medications — particularly those out for a long time — is that when the profit margin is a bit less, the license to manufacture them is often sold to only one or two pharmaceutical plants,” Dr Sheehan said.
“If they are making 80% to 90% of certain medications and a problem arises, there is going to be a huge shortage of medication. This is happening more and more, unfortunately, particularly with epilepsy medication. If people can’t access this medication there is going to be a significant increase in seizures.”
Dr Sheehan added: “This is an ongoing issue. The Government or the European Medicines Agency needs to examine the supply chain of older medications where the profit margin isn’t as large as some of the others.
“These are vital medications and measures need to be put in place to ensure their supply continues. The newer one can be very expensive but the older equivalent might be just as good. However, it might not be cost-effective to manufacture that particular product.
“At a European level, I think that needs to be looked at. We have to ensure that we continue the supply of these medications so they are guaranteed. Whether this is done at a national or European level, we need ensure the continuation of essential medication.”