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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

New data challenges claims of medicine shortages due to 60-day scripts

Health Industry Hub | May 29, 2023 |

Pharma News: The Australian government recently announced a plan to allow patients to receive a 60-day supply of medicines at pharmacies, doubling the current 30-day limit. While it has been praised by medical and patient groups, concerns have also been raised. The Pharmacy Guild of Australia opposes the new policy, fearing it could worsen shortages of critical medicines on the “critical shortage list.” As tensions rise between the government and the Pharmacy Guild, CheckMate, an investigative platform, has analysed the data to assess the potential consequences of this decision.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) medicine shortage database reveals that as of May 23, a total of 495 medicines were facing supply shortages. However, the Pharmacy Guild’s claim that 400 drugs on the critical shortage list would be affected by the new policy is called into question upon closer examination.

Upon reviewing the database, CheckMate found that out of the 422 shortages classified as “current,” only 46 drugs qualified as being on the government’s “critical” shortage list. Additionally, the database indicates that alternative options, such as generic drugs or drugs with similar compositions, are available for several listed medicines. In fact, alternatives were identified for five out of the 46 drugs on the critical shortage list. Furthermore, the analysis conducted by Dr Antonio Ahumada-Canale, a pharmacist and research fellow at Macquarie University’s Centre for the Health Economy, estimates that 315 drugs out of the 422 total shortages likely have alternative options.

Addressing concerns raised by the Pharmacy Guild, experts argue that the change in prescription limits will not lead to increased shortages. Renowned health economist, Professor Stephen Duckett explained that the new policy will merely alter the frequency of dispensing, without impacting the overall quantity of drugs being dispensed. Dr Ahumada-Canale echoed this sentiment, stating that the claim of worsening shortages “makes no sense” as patients will consume the same amount of medicine within a 12 month period. While pharmacies may need to adjust their stocking to meet the initial surge in demand, they are expected to stabilise shortly after.

Furthermore, the supply shortage database reveals that manufacturing issues and commercial changes are the leading causes of the shortages, accounting for 330 out of the 422 listed shortages. Only a minority, fewer than 70 shortages, are attributed to increased consumer demand.

In an effort to mitigate these challenges, starting July 1, the government will implement new requirements mandating manufacturers to maintain 4-6 months’ worth of stock for certain drugs within Australia.

Amidst the ongoing debate, Anthony Tassone, President at the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, took to social media to criticise the Labor government’s decision to implement the 60-day dispensing policy without consulting the Guild, highlighting a contradiction with statements made by previous Labor leaders. He asserted that there is still an opportunity for the Labor government to work together with the Guild, emphasising the importance of delivering cheaper medicines without leaving patients or pharmacies worse off.

As the debate rages on, the potential impact on medicine shortages and the overall accessibility of critical drugs will be closely monitored by the regulator, stakeholders and experts alike. The government faces the ongoing challenge of addressing the Pharmacy Guild’s reservations while maintaining its commitment to providing affordable medicines for the Australian population.

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