Medicines shortages rife, say hospital pharmacists


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Shortages are more prevalent than previously thought and pharmacists are struggling to keep up, survey reveals

Results gathered from 280 health care facilities across Australia by the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia (SHPA) have revealed stop-gap solutions such as ordering medicines from overseas or using emergency stock are commonplace.

SHPA president Professor Michael Dooley says the results of the 4 April survey show the extent of medicines shortages across Australian hospitals is broad and worsening, with processes for monitoring struggling to keep up.

Information about current or impending shortages was also found to be “highly unreliable”, with shortages flagged by pharmaceutical suppliers only 15% of the time.

“When we cross-referenced the responses with warnings and alerts available that day through government websites, including the TGA’s Medicine Shortages Information portal, 85% of reported shortages were not listed by their respective companies,” says Professor Dooley.

“There are worrying signs beyond the data – anecdotally, many pharmacists contacted SHPA saying they wanted to list additional shortages but ran out of time.”

According to the SHPA, 70% of respondents found out about medicine shortages when trying to order stock, prompting them to switch brand or drugs, use emergency stock or procure stock through the TGA’s Special Access Scheme, which increased costs in 93% of cases.

“Just over 32% of shortages were reported to have a direct impact on patient care through swapping in a less effective medicine, changing the administration due to a different form, or in many cases a lack of suitable alternatives.”

Hospital pharmacists reported 1,577 individual shortages across a wide range of medicine classes, the top five being:

  1. Antimicrobial medicines (almost 40% of shortages)
  2. Anaesthetics
  3. Cardiology medicines
  4. Endocrinology medicines
  5. Chemotherapies

SHPA CEO Kristin Michaels says suppliers should not be withholding information on medicines stock.

“Hospitals are bearing the burden of this lack of medicine supply regulation, and the more time pharmacists spend on the phone chasing limited or replacement stock, the less time they can spend with care teams advising and caring for patients,” says Ms Michaels.

She also points out that Canada and Slovakia have recently regulated the reporting of shortages of medicines and vaccines by manufacturers and wholesalers, providing the government with “precedent … to address this issue”.

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