The majority of the temporary dispensing restrictions placed upon Government-funded medicine will be removed on Saturday.
The restrictions were brought in on March 27 by pharmaceutical management agency Pharmac to manage medicine supply, decreasing the three-months' supply to four weeks.
Much like toilet paper and canned goods, medicines were at great risk of being hoarded by frantic stockpilers during the Covid-19 outbreak. The majority of New Zealand's medicines are brought in from overseas suppliers and this has led to difficulties regarding restocking.
"We are removing the dispensing restrictions for most medicines because, following consultation with suppliers, distributors and wholesalers, we are now confident that there is sufficient stock in New Zealand to support this change," said Pharmac's director of operations Lisa Williams.
"Medicines that were on monthly dispensing before 27th March 2020 will of course also continue to be dispensed monthly." Pharmac states that this includes paracetamol.
"We are giving three weeks' notice because we know the sector (suppliers, wholesalers, distributors and pharmacies) need time to prepare for the return to all-at-once dispensing," said Williams.
While pharmacists will be able to return to dispensing three months' supply all at once for the majority of medicines, some restrictions do remain on others.
Covid-19 continues to disrupt supply chains and manufacturing around the world and, with much of the country's pharmaceuticals being sourced from overseas, there will be some continuing problems with supply.
Returning to all at once dispensing for all medicines is dependent on having enough stock available in New Zealand, and supply chains for each medicine being robust, said WIlliams.
The medicines that will remain on restricted dispensing due to supply issues include Amlodipine, Clomipramine, Cyproterone acetate, Ibuprofen, Ipratropium, Nicotinic acid, Oestradiol, Potassium iodate, Sulfasalazine, Terazosin, Tranexamic Acid and Tranylcypromine sulphate. Sertraline will return to all-at-once dispensing on October 1.
Initially there was anxiety among patients, said Medical Director Dr Bryan Betty from the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners.
"Some patients didn't understand at first that there was a four week limit. They also had concerns they would be charged for a monthly pick-up, although this wasn't the case."
"It should be noted though that this misunderstanding came early into level 4 lockdown at a time when people were hearing a lot of information and had heightened fears and uncertainties around their health."
Betty said that the measures taken may have been inconvenient for patients, but that "maintaining a supply of medication is critically important for the community health sector and patients, so the monthly dispensing was necessary to manage medication supply disruption."
According to Pharmacist Samantha Tibshraeny, from Richmond Road Pharmacy, customers have been more than happy to comply with the new restrictions.
"Having the restrictions of one-month dispensing was completely necessary," she said, "and consumers understand that."
"Most people were just asking questions, wanting to learn more about the situation."
Tibshraeny does admit that Covid-19 and the resulting dispensary restrictions has been "putting huge pressure on pharmacies."
"Our workload has tripled, but that's just the way things go. It's been a difficult year for everybody."
The issues that General Practitioners dealt with during this time were all around learning new processes during the pandemic lockdown, said Betty.
"There was a move to electronic e-prescribing during lockdown, but uptake was variable due to some teething issues. Many practices also had to fax scripts to pharmacies to ensure there wasn't direct patient contact with the paper scripts, which could be a vector for transmitting any potential infection."
In terms of the restrictions being lifted, many patients will be relieved to not have to repeatedly visit the pharmacy but "nothing will change in terms of how they interact with GPs for prescriptions," said Betty.
Pharmac stresses that there is no need for New Zealanders to stockpile medicines at home. They are working "closely with suppliers to ensure that New Zealanders have uninterrupted access to the medicines they need."