PHARMAC places temporary dispensing limits on all funded community medicines

Media release Medicines COVID-19

PHARMAC is placing temporary dispensing limits on all funded community medicines from Friday 27 March 2020.

Changes will be made to the Pharmaceutical Schedule, which is a list of the prescription medicines and therapeutic products subsidised by the Government, restricting the dispensing of funded community medicines to just one month's supply at a time. The change is effective from midnight tonight, 26 March 2020.

“This means that from tomorrow (Friday) community pharmacists will be required to limit dispensing of all funded medicines to one month's supply or three-months for oral contraceptives,” explains PHARMAC’s Chief Executive Sarah Fitt.

Despite there being no significant medicine shortages in New Zealand, stockpiling is putting a major strain on supply chains. Unlike supermarkets, also under pressure from stockpiling but able to re-stock from New Zealand manufacturers, medicines are mostly sourced from overseas suppliers and the ability to re-stock quickly is very limited. 

“We are making this change to ensure that remaining medicines stocks in wholesalers, distributors and community pharmacies are appropriately managed. We need to ensure that every New Zealander will continue to have access to the medicines they need and that vulnerable communities don’t miss out.

“We do not make this decision lightly, as we know this means people who are in isolation will potentially have to visit pharmacies more often. However, despite messages to prescribers, pharmacies and the general public, stockpiling behaviour has not slowed down. This is putting the fair and equitable distribution of medicines at risk,” says Ms Fitt.

To support social distancing, pharmacists are able to make exceptions to dispense up to three months’ supply for certain people, specifically those with mobility issues, those who live rurally, those who are immunocompromised and the elderly. People are also able to have their prescriptions picked up for them by others.

This change is consistent with steps taken in Australia. There are no changes to the way prescriptions are written, and people won’t need to visit their GP or prescriber more frequently. It also doesn’t change how much they pay for their standard prescription. 

The impact of COVID-19 is likely to have global implications for medicine manufacture and supply chains for the remainder of 2020 and potentially beyond. PHARMAC will continue to monitor the situation carefully to ensure that our healthcare providers – both in the community and in hospitals – have the medicines and medical devices they need.