Aotearoa less affected by medicine supply issues than other countries

Media release Medicines COVID-19

Te Pātaka Whaioranga - Pharmac’s work behind the scenes and unique arrangements with suppliers means Aotearoa has been less affected by ongoing supply disruptions than other countries. Currently there are 47 medicine supply issues notified out of over 1000 funded medicines, and Pharmac is always working hard behind the scenes to ensure any impacts to New Zealanders and the health sector are minimised. Most issues will not be noticed by the public or cause significant disruption because alternatives are secured and made available. In comparison, Australia currently lists 321 medicine shortages, of which 47 are critical.(external link)

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for global medicine and devices supply chains. Increased demand, interruption of manufacturing processes, and disruptions to international and local distribution activities caused by millions of people being unwell have all contributed to these issues.

“These supply challenges are not unique to Aotearoa or to healthcare – they are being felt across the world and across almost every sector,” says director of operations Lisa Williams. “Our team knows how distressing it can be to learn that a medicine or device you use might not be available. It’s really important we share some information about what we are doing to manage supply issues.”

“Recent medicine supply issues, though mostly short-term, have affected fairly large groups of people in Aotearoa,” says Ms Williams. “These include quinapril with hydrochlorothiazide (branded as Accuretic), a blood pressure medication, and lorazepam (branded as Ativan), a medicine for anxiety and sleep issues. We have also found that some disruptions have had more long-term consequences, such as oestradiol (branded as Estradot) a hormone replacement therapy, where an increase in demand and historic manufacturing challenges have resulted in many people being unable to fill their prescriptions.”

“Supply issues can occur for a variety of reasons, such as shipping or other distribution disruptions, an increase in demand, manufacturing quality problems or product discontinuation. COVID-19 has magnified all of these issues and more,” said Ms Williams. When a potential supply issue is identified, we work with the supplier to try to ensure there is continuity in supply. Pharmac collaborates with others to source alternative products including suppliers, Medsafe, and the logistics sector to manage freight and distribution. Like everyone we work with, we are committed to making sure we can get the products New Zealanders need.”

"We do want to highlight how well Pharmac's contracts work to keep medicine stocks available in the country," said Ms Williams. "A good example of this in May was around the worldwide shortage of radiological contrast media – the colourless dye radiographers use to improve visibility in X-rays. Countries like Australia and the US got down to one week supply after a factory closure, but Pharmac's single-supplier contract requires two months of usual national demand to be held in the country and the obligations to maintain supply meant our orders made it to the front of the queue. This meant that Aotearoa was unaffected by this worldwide shortage.”

“As Pharmac doesn’t have contact details that would enable us to directly engage with people who might be affected by supply issues, we rely heavily on healthcare practitioners to share information,” said Ms Williams. We also appreciate how busy healthcare professionals are, so we use various channels to ensure that people have the information they need. These include our own website updates, emails to hospital and community pharmacies, regular meetings with our Te Whatu Ora partners, General Practitioner (GP) communications through the Royal New Zealand College of GPs, articles in NZ Doctor and Pharmacy Today, media releases, and social media.”

“Pharmac knows it can be tough, with everyone facing disruptions due to the supply chain. It’s especially difficult when it is unexpected, and everyone has done all they can to mitigate the situation. We want to reassure New Zealanders that Pharmac is working as hard as possible to ensure everyone has access to the medicines and devices they need to support their health and wellbeing,” said Ms Williams.