Pharmacies facing medicines shortage as flu season wreaks havoc locally

The nationwide shortage of medicines including antibiotics, cough bottles, cold and flu remedies, and steroids has led to increased pressure on local pharmacies in recent weeks.

There are now over 200 products listed on the Health Products Regulatory Agency’s medicines shortage list, which has resulted in many local businesses running out of stock of popular remedies.

Cathrine Healy, owner of Ballygar Pharmacy

Catherine Healy of Ballygar Pharmacy says the situation has become increasingly difficult in recent weeks and warned that there is currently no end in sight to the crisis.

“There has been a shortage of cough bottles and other medicines since the beginning of flu season last November but it has really peaked in the last few weeks,” she said.

“People are quite ill with flu and other illnesses and there is an unprecedented demand for cough bottles, cold and flu medication and even steroids.

“There was a reduced demand during Covid-19 when there were fewer incidences of flu but it is spiking terribly again and manufacturers have been caught out”.

Catherine says the shortage has put extra stress on local pharmacies, who were already under extreme pressure this winter.

“It has definitely added a lot of stress in recent weeks when it comes to sourcing medicines and while we have been able to substitute certain products, it has been very difficult,” she said.

“There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight…I can’t remember witnessing such demand and wholesalers are unable to give us a definite date for orders”.

Catherine says that while many customers have been proactive in getting flu and Covid booster vaccines, the nationwide shortage is having a knock-on effect.

“It’s a nationwide issue and I don’t think it was anticipated…people have been doing what they can in terms of vaccines but we’re in the thick of it right now,” she said.

Nial Tully, owner of Tully’s TotalHealth Pharmacy in Castlerea

Nial Tully of Tully’s Pharmacy in Castlerea says the shortage is adding to the already heavy workload of those in community healthcare services.

“These shortages effectively mean some doctors are seeing patients twice at times,” he said.

“A patient will arrive with a prescription and if the product is not available the pharmacist must go back to the doctor in order to offer an alternative. It’s difficult enough to get an appointment at times and so it doesn’t help if doctors have to do the same job twice”.

Nial believes the adoption of a regulated prescription system already in use in the UK would ease the burden on GPs, pharmacists, and patients alike.

“As pharmacists we can suggest alternatives to over-the-counter medications but prescriptions are a different kettle of fish,” he said.

“A number of medications are out of supply or are slow in coming in because they are unevenly distributed across the country.

“What would help are the Serious Shortage Protocols they use in the UK. It’s a system where the pharmacist can recommend an alternative prescription if the original isn’t available”.

Nial says that while geography and lower drug prices mean the Irish healthcare system will always experience shortages on some level, the current crisis is short-term.

“We’ve been told the shortage of antibiotics will be over by the first week in February, but it’s hard to know how accurate that is,” he said.

“Some wholesalers will give a date to pacify people but we can’t be sure because it’s a European-wide issue.

“In the longer-term, shortages on some level are here forever more because Ireland is on the outskirts of Europe and has some of the cheapest drugs when compared to other EU countries…which is good and bad,” he concluded.