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Cough syrup is one of the items people are struggling to buy (file photo) Shutterstock/siam.pukkato
winter surge

Over 200 medicines unavailable in Ireland, including cough syrups and soluble painkillers

There is a major shortage of over-the-counter treatments for respiratory illnesses and bacterial infections.

OVER 200 MEDICINES are unavailable in Ireland, including over-the-counter treatments for respiratory illnesses and bacterial infections.

There is a major shortage of cough syrups for both adults and children, with pharmacists left scrabbling for alternatives.

Sprays for sore throats, dissolvable paracetamol powder and soluble aspirin are also widely unavailable, according to the latest Medicine Shortage Index.

The shortages come as the health service struggles to cope with a surge in cases of Covid-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu.

Some 212 different medicines needed by Irish patients are currently out of stock, an increase of 25 on last month.

The medicines experiencing shortages are for use across a range of health areas, including respiratory and bacterial infections, strep throat, pneumonia, pain relief and blood pressure.  

The index is prepared by Azure Pharmaceuticals, which analyses the most up-to-date data published by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).  

The analysis found that common medicines such as Amoxicillin and Penicillin, used to treat bacterial infections, and Cefalexin, commonly used to treat respiratory infections, are all currently unavailable from any supplier or source.

The shortage of Clarithromycin, used to combat strep throat and pneumonia, is also causing growing pressure as the three suppliers of the medicine — who account for over 50% of the market — are now also out of stock.  

The index notes that 40% of the medicines out of stock this month have just a single supplier, leaving pharmacists without licensed alternatives for patients.

Experts have warned that the level of the shortage is worse in Ireland than the rest of Europe, with a recently published European Commission report showing the EU-wide singled-sourced average standing at 25%.  

Similar to last month, 11 medicines on the World Medical Organisation’s ‘critical medicines’ list are among the 212 medicines not available in Ireland.  

Global and domestic factors

Commenting on the figures, Sandra Gannon, Managing Director of Azure Pharmaceuticals, noted: “For the second month running, we are seeing the scale of medicine shortages in Ireland and the resulting impact on patients and those who care for them.

“It is the continuation of a trend that was first evident at the end of 2019 and has been continually worsening in the period since.

At a time when we are desperately trying to keep people out of our hospitals and provide adequate care in the community, leaving patients without access to their vital treatments has huge knock-on implications for the current crisis in our emergency departments.

“Existing high levels of sicknesses and hospital demand pressures risk being exacerbated further by the medicines shortages problems.”

The HSE recently asked people to avoid attending emergency departments in hospitals around Ireland due to overcrowding amid a surge in cases of Covid-19, RSV and other illnesses.

There were 611 people with Covid-19 in Irish hospitals yesterday, including 35 people in ICU.

On Friday, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) recorded 535 patients on trolleys in hospitals – down from a record high of over 930 on Tuesday.

Gannon said there are a few reasons behind the current medicine shortages, including both “global and domestic factors”.

She accused the Government of being “slow to even acknowledge the problem resulting in an inadequate response to date”.

Gannon said the UK Government, in comparison, “has moved to introduce new protocols to address the shortages issue, including a ban on exports of antibiotics and specific guidance to healthcare professionals on the options that are available”.

She noted that a number of measures could be taken to tackle the problem, including “opening the door to alternative sources for medicines which are currently single-source dependent needs to be fast-tracked”.

“Medicines will continue to follow the best prices, and until Ireland can better compete globally in this regard, the shortages we’re seeing will continue. It is also time to reflect on the learnings of Covid, broaden our manufacturing base, and de-risk our dependency on particular markets,” she added. 

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