Medication shortages could cost lives – time to act is now

All Western Australians have the right to expect access to their essential and lifesaving medicines.

In early 2020, this right was denied with reported widespread supply disruptions leading to medicine shortages and in some cases, notably in regional areas of the State, outages. This left people with asthma wondering where to get their next dose of Ventolin, elderly without their hypertensive medication and even parents not being able to give Panadol to their children.

Medicines shortages, as reported in today’s Australian newspaper, remain an issue in 2021. Ongoing supply disruptions to life saving medicines, no matter the cause, are unacceptable and untenable for the sake of the lives of every West Australian.

The Australian newspaper reports on apparently leaked documents from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (the TGA), the national regulatory authority for therapeutic goods, which regulates the supply, import, export, manufacturing and advertising of these goods.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia WA Branch (the WA Branch) has not had access to the documents referred to by the Australian newspaper. In response to the article however WA Branch President Andrew Ngeow commented that “pharmacies in Australia dispensed over 213 million Government subsidised (Above Co-Pay) prescriptions in 2019-20. Available medicines however are not the issue, it is shortages which require a different solution, and one which Commonwealth and State Governments must immediately consider and work with the sector to develop solutions.”

In the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WA Branch confirmed reports from Western Australia’s Pandemic Emergency Control Centre that some pharmacies were running out of critical drugs. At the time, the WA Branch first raised the immediacy of the issue, along with several potential solutions to medicines supply disruption with the Western Australian Government.

These concerns were taken on board and the WA Branch therefore agrees wholeheartedly with the Minister for Health Roger Cook’s evidence to the Legislative Assembly Estimate Committee (Wednesday, 21 October 2020), that “the Pharmacy Guild has described to me that Australia is at the end of the global supply chains and Western Australia is at the end of the national supply chains. That is a scary situation. It is a scary situation for the system manager, the Director General, and it is a scary situation for me, but imagine that parent being unable to provide Ventolin to his daughter. We have to find a better way to make sure that Western Australia becomes more resilient.”

There has been announced a review of several supply chain options originally proposed by the WA Branch, including the establishment of a medicines stockpile for community use. The WA Branch is calling for the Department of Health to expedite that review.

In addition to the strengthening of medicines supply, the WA Branch believes that pharmacists must be authorised to provide greater continuity of medicines supply through the approval of therapeutic substitution and continued dispensing of medicines, commonplace in other parts of the world but currently restricted in Australia.

Removing outdated and restrictive legislation and policy will allow pharmacists to operate as they are trained to, improving Western Australians access to medicines.

Mr Ngeow said.

This is not only immediately implementable; it is at little or no cost to government.

Whilst these structural changes are being considered, the WA Branch also encourages all Western Australians to speak with their local community pharmacy about their medicines’ requirements. These discussions will go some way to limiting the interruption of their treatment.

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