Australians will be restricted to buying a single unit of Ventolin or children’s paracetamol at a time under tough new measures to counter hoarding of medical supplies.
The federal government has also announced it will limit customers to purchasing one month’s supply of some prescription medicines. It has also instructed pharmacists to place children’s paracetamol formulations behind the counter to ensure they are fairly distributed among customers.
The deputy chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, urged Australians to stop hoarding medicine as he announced the measures on Thursday.
“I will repeat that – please do not buy more than you need for anything, whether that’s food and particularly medicines,” he said.
There is no suggestion Australia is experiencing a national medicine shortage, though individual pharmacists have continued to report pressure on stocks.
Kelly said there were strong systems in place to ensure the government was alerted to any such shortages. No such alerts had been received but Kelly urged suppliers to advise authorities if shortages were imminent.
Australian pharmacies have been placing large orders with pharmaceutical wholesalers to replace stock amid significant Covid-19-related demand.
One of three major Australian wholesalers, Symbion, told the Guardian the demand from pharmacies was “significant”.
The company would not give figures to quantify the level of demand but said there was “sufficient stock around the country” to meet it.
“No pharmacy brand, organisation or order is being prioritised at this time,” a spokesman said. “From Symbion’s perspective, metropolitan and rural pharmacies are being equally served.”
Reports have continued to emerge of local supply problems at individual pharmacies, particularly in rural areas.
Pharmacists have reported pressure on stocks of over-the-counter goods including Ventolin, painkillers, hand sanitiser, masks and gloves.
In some cases, local pharmacies have risen above any competitive instinct to work together with competitors, sharing stock and ensuring that at-risk and elderly customers have what they need.
Last week at least three major drug wholesalers wrote to pharmacists apologising for supply chain challenges, according to documents seen by the Medical Republic and shared with Guardian Australia. One of the wholesalers had written that demand for over-the-counter and prescription drugs was 30% to 40% higher than the company’s forecasts, which had already been adjusted to account for coronavirus.
Kelly said the new restrictions were the result of consultations with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.
“We have a very good system of knowing about medicine shortages in Australia and in fact it is incumbent on all medicine suppliers that they must tell us if there is a shortage now or orshortly into the future,” he said.
“We have not had that from any suppliers. It seems local supply shortages have happened in particular pharmacies.”
A Pharmacy Guild spokesman, Greg Turnbull, told the Guardian on Wednesday that it was not aware of any drug being out of stock.
“But certainly the supply chain is at maximum capacity at the moment,” he said.
“I’ll give you an example I heard from one wholesaler. Normally, when the truck leaves the distribution centre … it is heading out to service eight to nine pharmacies. Now it is heading out to service two to three because they are ordering so much.”