CANCER patients, diabetics, children and the elderly are all suffering because of a serious shortage in key medicines, Irish pharmacists have claimed.
The antibiotic Augmentin is just one of a range of major medicines which are difficult or impossible to buy in this country at the moment.
Darragh O'Loughlin, Secretary General of the Irish Pharmacy Union says there is a wide range of shortages for vital treatment and has called on the Department of Health to intervene.
Drugs needed daily by women who have been treated for breast cancer, diabetics and medicine for an over-active thyroid are all lacking in supply.
"People are suffering inconvenience, hardship and worry," Mr O'Loughlin said.
"Breast cancer on its own is quite traumatic without worrying about the difficulties of getting medication. It's just plain wrong."
Mr O'Loughlin says he personally has had experience of patients bringing a child home from hospital where an antibiotic has been prescribed that it has taken him two to three days to source outside the country.
"This prolongs the illness for the child and also makes it harder to treat," he added.
A survey of IPU members in June of this year showed that 98pc of pharmacists had noticed medicine shortages in the last 12 months and 44pc believed patients' health had been adversely affected.
Mr O'Loughlin said one part of the problem was that drugs coming off patent lowered the price and so manufacturers tended to consolidate the production of these drugs into a few plants.
If one of these had a production problem, there was often no other source of supply. In the case of Augmentin, for example, all of the tablets are made at two plants in the UK which supplies both the branded product and three generic forms.
The same difficulty applied to the limited number of manufacturers of active ingredients for drugs.
Mr O'Loughlin added that during shortages, supplies were often sent to the places that paid the highest price.