Whanganui pharmacists say they're having to ration how much medication they sell to customers because of a national shortage of some drugs, including paracetamol.

Pharmaceuticals in New Zealand are selected for funding by government agency, Pharmac. It is currently managing a number of stock shortages.

Melina Holmes, who manages and owns the Unichem store in Springvale, said she was having trouble getting paracetamol, dilantin liquid, a supplement known as Ensure powder and the antibiotic bactroban ointment to name a few.

She said the shortages she and other pharmacists were facing were being experienced throughout the country.

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"If you looked at pharmacies say five years ago out-of-stocks were very, very rare in terms of you have medicine that's fully funded and on prescription ... the country would very rarely be unable to fill a prescription because it was out of stock.

"Now if you look over the past six months for argument's sake, the amount of out-of-stock medicines that the country's just completely out of or that they've had to put extra restrictions on so they don't run out of it has just skyrocketed.

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"You've got medicines like paracetamol tablets which are, pretty certain, the number one dispensed tablet on prescription - even though they're cheap - they're having to put restrictions on the whole of the country so that we don't run out."

The owner and pharmacist at Hawkins Pharmacy in Wanganui East, Trevor Hawkins, echoed what Holmes said.

"I do get fed up with constantly having to deal with the shortages," he said.

"Constantly having to work out 'what is the one we can get, can we get it? How much can we get? There's a lot of these things that we order in the standard quantities that we order and our wholesalers are having to cut the quantities back so we're having to re-order far more frequently.

"That gets into ... the extra work on us to do this. It's also keeping track of what version are we currently able to get, what version is currently subsidised and managing that whole process does get to be very frustrating."

Hawkins also said it was likely New Zealand was a small player in the global pharmaceuticals market meaning it was not first on the priority list.

"Explanation with customers, dealing with their frustration and anger. Potentially more time at the counter spent explaining these things and helping facilitate through the process. That we don't get reimbursed for."

Both pharmacists said restrictions meant more work for them and their staff and that was never reimbursed.

"It does involve extra work and effort on our behalf to get through these things," Hawkins said.

"Explanation with customers, dealing with their frustration and anger. Potentially more time at the counter spent explaining these things and helping facilitate through the process. That we don't get reimbursed for."

He said in some cases there were products like the antibiotic ointment, bactroban, that could be replaced but the substitute was more expensive.

No customers had to be turned away, Hawkins said.

"Sometimes if a customer is wanting a specific brand that might not always be available. Pharmac has usually put in place an alternate.

"It's more a case of trying to find our way through these things ... [customers] might have a smaller amount given to them. Instead of giving them three months supply of something, it might be that we have to drip-feed it monthly."

Pharmac said its supplier of paracetamol had not been able to provide sufficient volumes and that it was working with them to make sure there was enough for people who needed it.

"To assist in managing the available stock, we have put restrictions in place for the blister pack product," Pharmac stated on its website.

Pharmac's director of operations Lisa Williams said the agency was always working with pharmaceutical companies over supply issues.

"Changes in international demand for medicines, manufacturing shortages, natural disasters or changes in regulatory rules in other countries can all have flow on effects to supply in New Zealand."

"You won't hear about most of these, as we have steps in place to manage these before they impact pharmacies and patients," Williams said.

"Product availability issues can happen from time-to-time for a range of reasons, often out of Pharmac's or the supplier's control.

"Changes in international demand for medicines, manufacturing shortages, natural disasters or changes in regulatory rules in other countries can all have flow on effects to supply in New Zealand."

She said Pharmac managed the impacts of such changes to ensure access to funded medicines was consistent nationally.

Williams also said Pharmac puts safeguards in contracts with suppliers in New Zealand.

"The contracts require that suppliers hold a minimum of two months stock in New Zealand and tell us as soon they are aware of a potential supply issue and to provide an alternative brand if needed.

"Pharmac can also take actions such as changing dispensing frequency, so that all patients can continue to get the medicines they need."