By REBECCA WALSH
Thousands of New Zealanders could be affected by a shortage of common drugs, including medications used for gout, iron anaemia and constipation, says National's health spokesman, Paul Hutchison.
Dr Hutchison has blamed Pharmac's drug-buying policy for a shortage of more than 30 drugs and says the situation could get worse.
"In effect, Pharmac does a deal with one supplier only, cutting other suppliers out. Even though the supplier should guarantee continuous supply, in practice shortages occur, as is happening around the country now," he said.
But Pharmac says that is only part of the reason and only five of the drugs are subject to "sole-supply agreements". Many are over the counter products, including tooth whitener, hair dye and lip balm.
Dr Hutchison, who wants Pharmac reviewed, said Allopurinol, a drug used to prevent gout, had virtually run out. An alternative drug was available but it could cause stomach ulcers.
Pharmacists were using emergency stocks of iron supplements for pregnant women. If the women were unable to get the supplements they could become anaemic. Their babies might even suffer birth defects.
"There are potentially serious consequences. This should not be happening in a so-called First World country like New Zealand."
Pharmac chief executive Wayne McNee said it was oversimplifying the issue to say the shortages were due to Pharmac's sole-supply deals.
Of the 36 products listed, 24 were either over-the-counter products or were not subsidised. Only five were subject to sole-supply contracts.
Mr McNee said manufacturing problems, shipping strikes and customs delays contributed to what was a worldwide problem.
Pharmac took a "tough line" against suppliers who failed to meet the terms of their contracts.
Pharmacy Guild president Richard Heslop said drug shortages happened intermittently. Pharmac's sole-supply policy had made the situation worse but it was not the sole cause of the problem.
Herald Feature: Health system
By REBECCA WALSH