Latest figures from the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) show there are almost 250 medicines affected by shortages in Ireland.

The HPRA said that medicine shortages can be challenging for those who rely on medicines for their health and well-being.

It added that for many medicines supplied in Ireland, there is more than one strength, form, pack size or brand available from different suppliers.

It said that a doctor or pharmacist will often be able to supply an alternative strength, form or product to ensure continuity of treatment if the medicine a person has been taking is unavailable.

In a statement, Azure Pharmaceuticals, one of the drug firms tracking medicine shortages, said there has been a 48% year-on-year increase in affected products.

It said that the latest shortages analysis indicates a major scarcity of commonly used tablets to treat anxiety and insomnia, including generic versions of the medicines.

It added that other medicines in short supply across multiple suppliers, include several high blood pressure medicines and that many antibiotics and over the counter cough and cold medicines are still under pressure.

'Critical medicines'

Azure said that of the 248 medicines currently unavailable, 13 are listed on the World Medical Organization's "critical medicines" list.

Its statement added: "There is growing consensus that commercial reasons are one of the primary drivers of the crisis.

"This month the OECD's health division told the Lancet medical journal that unsustainably low pricing for many off-patent medications is one of the main factors creating vulnerability in the supply of medicines."

Azure said that medicine shortages "will continue to persist unless political will is shown in Ireland to take measures, like those carried out by other EU nations, to meaningfully tackle the issue".

It said that over a third of the 248 out-of-stock medicines in Ireland are "single source suppliers" and said there is "immense price pressures on medicines in the lowest price segment".

The firm said that one of the ways it has to protect domestic supplies is through pricing and while "very low prices might appear to be an advantage", it is "actually a false positive because the lower the prices, the less attractive the market is for manufacturers."

This can result, Azure said, in leaving only a few suppliers for some critical medicines.

"Failure to act increases the likelihood of manufacturers and medicines leaving the market altogether," it added.

The HPRA said that the increase in medicine shortage notifications from the pharmaceutical industry in recent months is directly related to the increased demand due to the winter surge.

It said there has been a 36% reduction in notifications during February, coinciding with a stabilisation in the supply, for example, with paediatric antibiotics.

"This is not to say that shortages have disappeared, but there are factors, such as the winter surge, that can put additional pressure on a health system and medicine supply," it added.

The Authority added that based on an analysis of data reported by the pharmaceutical industry over several years, the reasons for shortages vary and are primarily due to manufacturing issues.

Shortages of medicines are also not unique to Ireland, and there is no evidence that shortages disproportionately impact patients in Ireland compared to other countries, it said.