The medicines shortage has worsened with 12 more drugs out of stock in the last week including a treatment for epilepsy, it has emerged.
The number of out-of-stock medicines has risen to 224 amid warnings that patients here are losing out because of the lower prices paid by Ireland to drug makers compared to other countries.
Azure Pharmaceuticals, which compiles the Medicine Shortages Index, said manufacturers including companies producing medicines domestically are getting paid up to four times as much for their products abroad than in Ireland.
The updated index has found the number of medicines not available stands at 224, an increase of 12 medicines in seven days.
Among the additional medicines to go out of stock in the past week are phenytoin which is used to treat epilepsy.
Sandra Gannon, managing director of Azure Pharmaceuticals, which is involved in supplying some of the older off-patent medicines, said: “The Government appears to be at best misinformed and at worst in denial about the root cause of this worsening problem. Changing legislation to give extra powers to pharmacists should form a key part of a package of solutions, but that alone will not resolve matters. The price we pay, and a medicines pricing agreement that is no longer fit for purpose, is at the heart of this issue.”
In recent weeks pharmacists have reported difficulties in getting hold of common cold and flu remedies as the country endured a wave of viral illnesses.
There are ongoing shortages of paracetamol, essential antibiotics for serious bacterial infections such as amoxicillin and penicillin, as well as some blood pressure treatments.
Azure analysed the average prices paid for 10 essential mainstream medicines by Irish, UK and European governments.
It found that, on average, the UK and EU member governments are paying twice as much to manufacturers than the comparative prices that the Irish government industry agreement allows.
Some countries are paying up to four times more than Ireland, giving rise to serious shortages for patients here as manufacturers choose to maximise returns through supplying higher-price markets.
For instance, the reimbursement to industry for a 100 pack of 500mg paracetamol tablets in Ireland is €1.73, compared to €3.05 in the UK and €7.35 on average in Europe. The price paid to manufacturers for a 100 pack of 500mg amoxicillin capsules here is €16.15, compared to €31.75 in the UK and an EU average of €24.46.
“In less than a decade, we have gone full circle on what we pay for mainstream medicines, with Ireland now paying substantially less than neighbouring countries for a range of medicines. As a result, manufacturers are choosing to supply their medicines to those countries who will pay better prices,” Mr Gannon said.
The Department of Health said it is closely monitoring the supply of medicines.
“In the case of medicines used most often in Ireland, there are typically multiple forms, strengths, brands and generic medicines available from various sources,” it said.
“Where some individual medicines are in short supply, alternative options such as alternative strengths, brands and generic medicines remain available to ensure continuity of treatment.”