Concern over medicine supply

Government questioned over medicine deliveries during times of crisis, with coronavirus and fuel supply raised as issues  

Federal Parliament has heard a number of calls for action to protect the medicine supply chain against potential threats. 

In discussion in the House of Representatives this week (4 March), Anthony Byrne, (ALP, Vic) spoke on whether the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020, which provide appropriations from Consolidated Revenue for the remainder of the financial year, should be used to shore up medicine supply as the coronavirus emergency worsens.

Speaking “in the spirit of bipartisanship” he drew attention to concerns addressed by US lawmakers that supply chain disruptions, due to halting production in China and elsewhere, had “exposed a critical weakness in our drug supply chain”.

“A significant proportion of pharmaceutical ingredients for drugs are manufactured in China, which means supply chain disruption may eventually cause drug shortages around the world, including in Australia,” Mr Byrne said.

With Mr Byrne also mentioning broader concerns fro the economy as the crises drags on and worsens, he called fro a stimulus package to help impacted companies, and to help aim at ensuring supply of essentials, such as medicines. 

“I encourage the Australian government to strongly consider a stimulus package to support the Australian
economy. As a starting point, I think the stimulus package should focus on low- to no-interest loans to companies of all sizes negatively affected by supply-chain disruptions, reductions to tourism or other temporary coronavirus related impacts.

In my view, restoring confidence will be the key. We need calm, strong, focused leadership in addressing this issue. The Australian people need it. Our government needs to deliver it. Our parliament needs to
deliver it”.

Meanwhile, former the Science Minister Senator Kim Carr has raised concerns that pharmaceutical supply could be impacted by fuel shortages.

Speaking at this week’s Senate Estimates hearing for the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, Senator Carr (ALP, Vic), said “the NRMA have done some studies on the consequences
of [disruption to energy/fuel supply]… and particularly looked at the issue of the likely supply chains in pharmaceuticals. My memory is that they are suggesting that we only have about two weeks supply in terms of capacity to supply the country on pharmaceuticals”.

In response, Tim Wyndham, General Manager of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources’ Energy Security Branch said he had “no knowledge on what our situation on pharmaceuticals is”, claiming that his department’s modelling had not looked at this specifically.

Senator Carr responded: “the NRMA and a number of other bodies have undertaken serious
examinations of these issues and point to the consequences at the householder level. One of those is the question about the capacity to supply our hospitals, to supply pharmaceuticals to individuals and to supply a whole range of areas… all of which depend upon our transport systems.

And you are saying that your study doesn’t go to those issues?”

Shane Gaddes, Acting Head of the Division of Energy Security and Efficiency, said the government had not asked them to “go down to the level of which commodities would be delivered to which people under those circumstances”.

Speaking at the hearing, Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, said “the purpose of this type of work is acknowledging that there are disruptions that come to society and an economy from an interruption to fuel supply.

This enables government to map and model what those potential disruptions may entail and how to plan around aspects of that. You can argue about how far into what resilience measures need to be assessed”.




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1 Comment

  1. Michael Ortiz

    This another issue where Community Pharmacy can make a positive contribution to the corona virus pandemic.

    Wholesalers keep up to 6 weeks supplies of most pharmaceuticals, and manufacturers supplies need to be ordered up to three months prior to delivery if coming from overseas.

    Based on these facts there likely to be no more than three months supply of high use medicines manufactured overseas. At this stage products manufactured in North America, Europe and India should not be affected, however it may not be possible to increase orders due to production time lags and increased global demand.

    Given that Chinese production has been shut down for the last 6 weeks, local supplies of Chinese manufactured medicines should be approaching low levels over the next few weeks.

    It may now be time to assess stock levels of critical medicines so that rationing could be implemented with supply limited to one month at a time every 21 days for medicines with potential shortages and where there is evidence of panic buying. This rationing would need to continue until Chinese manufacturing comes back on line and that other countries are not forced to shut down their production.

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