Medicines to control high blood pressure and cholesterol are among a growing number of drugs in short supply, along with commonly used nasal spray products and skin treatments, new data shows.
The chronic shortage of medicines is showing no sign of abating, with a record 239 drugs now absent from shelves, including 13 on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) critical list.
With the hay fever season coming later this spring, the shortage of nasal sprays is also of concern.
The number of medicines in short supply has increased by an alarming 34pc since last October.
The latest analysis by industry experts reveals an emerging scarcity of commonly used nasal spray products and skin treatments.
Other medicines that are now in short supply across multiple suppliers in the past week include ezetimibe, which treats high blood cholesterol, and lercanidipine, which is used for the treatment of high blood pressure.
Several antibiotics and over-the-counter cough and cold medicines remain problematic to source.
The Medicine Shortage Index, prepared by Azure Pharmaceuticals, analyses the most up-to-date data published by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).
A round-table meeting to discuss the problems fuelling the shortages is due to take place in Dublin tomorrow.
Speaking in advance of the meeting, Thyra de Jongh, lead author of a recent European Commission report on medicine shortages, said: “The issue is caused by many factors in the chain, such as shortages in raw materials, transport costs going up, geopolitical factors such as the war in Ukraine, and a surge in demand for certain medicines due to intensive seasonal epidemics.
“These more acute factors are further spotlighting systemic weaknesses in the supply chain that have been there for years.
“What has changed is that the present crisis has really brought home to people that if you depend on highly globalised, complex supply chains and if something goes wrong, it’s going to have an impact and cause shortages.
“Pricing is part of the issue. The link is there in terms of its effect on supply security. Low margins on medicines have changed the structures of supply chains, making the whole system more vulnerable.”
Portugal recently opted to increase medicine prices by up to 5pc in a bid to improve its medicine supply.
Claudio Zurzica, an international medicine supply-chain expert, said: “Anything that contains a primary packaging container like syringes, or other types of plastic devices used to house pharmaceutical products, might see some disruption or delay due to the supply-chain repercussions coming through from China during the past few months.
“What we see in the pharmaceutical supply chain is that disruptions happen because the manufacturing is complicated. There are undoubtedly supply-chain reasons for the present medicine shortages.
“But that factor is mixed with a combination of other reasons, like overheads and logistics going up due to geopolitical factors, and also commercial and pricing reasons.”
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has insisted that no company “has cited pricing as a reason for current product shortages”. He also suggested there are suitable product alternatives.
However, pharmacists have warned that patients are worried and frustrated over having to make do with a patchwork of alternatives.
Sandra Gannon, chief executive of Azure Pharmaceuticals, said: “We’re seeing shortages emerging for nasal sprays.
“[This is] in part because of increased demand, but also due to supply issues that are slowly emerging down the chain from manufacturing sites on the other side of the world.”
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