Wholesalers advise on stock situation

TGA advice about stock ordering casts doubt on pharmacists’ actions, says one organisation, as the NPSA issues a statement on measures to avoid shortages

The National Pharmaceutical Services Association, representing the wholesalers, has said in a statement that its members have been proactive in consulting with the Government and the CSO Agency to help manage demand for medicines due to the COVID-19 emergency.

“With special approval from the government agency, measures were put in place last week to limit order quantities and help ensure equitable access to medicines for all Australians, no matter where they live,” the NPSA advised on Monday.

“These measures are under hourly review as the situation evolves.”

The NPSA said that it was important to note that no pharmacy brand, organisation or order is currently being prioritised.

It said that metropolitan and rural pharmacies are being equally serviced.

The statement follows reports of local out-of-stock situations around the country, and a call by the Rural Pharmacy Network Australia to investigate what it called an “unprecedented run on wholesaler stocks of PBS medicines over the last two weeks”.

RPNA coordinator Dr Katie Stott said that major wholesalers received “massive orders from major accounts that emptied warehouses around the country and caused a majority of the highest volume PBS items to become suddenly unavailable” at around Monday 2 March.

The TGA had also this week issued advice on Monday to pharmacists not to over-order stock, and again called on consumers not to stockpile medicines.

This advice read in part: “We call on consumers not to purchase more medicines than they need, and we urge health professionals to reassure patients that there is no need to buy more than is necessary. Health professionals should also avoid prescribing or dispensing multiple months of supply of prescription medicines to patients where there is no clinical need to do so. We call on pharmacists to avoid over-ordering medicines, to help ensure that medicines are available to all Australians who need them.”

The NPSA said it supported this advice.

NPSA said that its members are working closely with suppliers to replenish stock as it becomes available, and that the organisation has a range of contingency measures in place to meet extraordinary and evolving circumstances.

“We understand the pressure on all parts of the supply chain and appreciate the extreme difficulties being faced by our pharmacy customers,” it said.

PSA national president Associate Professor Chris Freeman said that the organisation is actively working with the NPSA and Guild to keep pharmacists up to date on the current supply situation.

“Pharmacists are on the frontline addressing and dealing with continuity of care associated with medicines during this COVID-19 crisis,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the TGA statement was poorly worded when it cast doubt over the actions of pharmacists who currently are doing their best in difficult times.

“Pharmacists are having to order extra items and stock, in response to regulation 24 prescriptions from GPs and requests from patients.

“PSA has written to our colleagues at the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian Medical Association urging prescribers to be more vigilant in issuing Reg24 prescriptions unnecessarily.

“At this point in time, we need to be calm and measured and the TGA is best to support practitioners at the front line.”

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  1. A Ng

    From many different sources I know, API has prioritized large discounters. The wholesalers should put a cap like max 200 per item per day for large chains so that they have enough for small and rural pharmacies which can provide medications to our rural patients. I don’t order from other wholesalers and therefore I cannot say anything about others.

  2. Peter Crothers

    Reg24 should not be at the sole discretion of doctors, especially in a time like this. It is plainly being abused by prescribers and pharmacists should have the power to police it and override it at their discretion. We are the custodians of the PBS and the purpose of the PBS is to ensure equity of access by all Australians to essential medicines. ‘Equity’ implies access according to genuine need, not ‘first-in-best-dressed’.

  3. Michael Ortiz

    Most Pharmaceutical companies manufacture their products overseas and a large proportion are manufactured in China and India as well as Europe. Most companies in Australia would only hold around three months supply of high volume products and they need to order at least 6 to 8 weeks ahead. Consequently Wholesalers could have limited capacity to replenish their medicine stocks. It is likely that there will be stock shortages if there is panic buying by consumers.

    One only needs to walk through a supermarket to see the impact of panic buying. We are starting to see recommendations that consumers keep enough medicine in case they need to self quarantine and there are reports of some patients already stockpiling their medicines. It may not be long before large numbers of consumers start stockpiling, especially if there are shortages of key medicines.

    Should Pharmacists limit the number of packs of medicines that a consumer can purchase? Is it time that the Pharmacy Guild put in place some Guidelines to limit panic buying of prescription medicines? For example, patients could be limited to filling no more than one month’s supply of chronic use PBS prescriptions every 21 days.

    It is time to act before medication stockpiling becomes a problem.

  4. Ian Magill

    Am I misreading this?
    “The NPSA said that it was important to note that no pharmacy brand, organisation or order is currently being prioritised”

    “Currently”, implying that wholesalers have in the (recent?) past!

    My contingency plan involves going to certain pharmacy groups who mysteriously have copious amounts of stock on hand whereas my stock holding of 4 weeks will be exhausted.
    The NPSA obviously are speaking words that are not reflective of the reality of the experience of many pharmacists across the nation who do not work for these so-called ‘VIP’ customers of wholesalers.

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