Medicines availability – Responding to increased demand due to winter seasonal illness

News Category: Regulatory news

Date: 09/01/2023

Due to a combination of factors, including the level of respiratory illnesses in the community, a significant increase in demand for medicines used to treat seasonal conditions such as colds and flus has been observed over recent weeks. In some cases, this demand has been 2-3 times the normal level seen during the same period in previous years. From discussions with suppliers and regulators in other countries, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) understands that similar trends have been observed in other European countries who have experienced significant increases in demand.

The HPRA has been engaging with all stakeholders, including suppliers, with a view to ensuring a coordinated response to this increased demand. The key focus at all times has been to ensure that suitable medicines remain available to treat all patients.

In the case of medicines used most often in Ireland, there are typically multiple forms, strengths, brands, and generic medicines available from various sources. 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. In some cases where the medicine initially prescribed for the patient is unavailable, patients may be switched to a suitable therapeutic alternative following appropriate consultation with a healthcare professional. This approach is also consistent with national antimicrobial prescribing guidelines.

Suitable medicines continue to be available to treat respiratory illnesses and their symptoms in both adults and children. Taking into account the wide range of available medicines to treat respiratory illnesses, there is no need for healthcare professionals to order extra quantities of medicines, or for doctors to issue additional prescriptions. Similarly, patients and the general public are asked not to seek supplies of medicines over and above their normal requirements. Doing so will disrupt existing stock levels and hamper the supply of medicines for others.

Further to the HPRA’s regular and ongoing engagement with industry, we have been informed that in a number of instances suppliers have increased production and sourced additional stock to respond to this recent increase in demand. Although the HPRA has no role in procuring medicines, we continue to engage with the suppliers to obtain updates and remains open to expediting regulatory procedures to enable supply of additional stock, where possible.

The HPRA fulfils a coordinating role in Ireland’s response to managing medicine shortages when they occur. In each case, the HPRA works with relevant stakeholders as necessary, to coordinate an effective approach to the management of a confirmed product shortage.

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