01 February 2007 | Paul Snell
Patients are being put at risk because of attempts to cut supplier bills, according to the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA).
The claim came after the NZMA revealed that hospitals had run out of synthetic adrenaline because of manufacturing problems at the supplier, pharmaceutical firm Mayne.
Adrenaline, known as Epinephrine in the US, is used to treat medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest or life-threatening allergic reactions.
Dr Ross Boswell, chairman of the NZMA, said: "This situation has arisen because of the government's obsession to cheapen medical care by screwing down suppliers' prices with sole-supply contracts."
He added that the government ought to have given far greater importance to security of supply and patient safety.
Pharmac, the government agency responsible for spending on drugs, refuted the claims. It said that although Mayne was the only supplier of adrenaline, it was not on a sole supply contract. Other suppliers had chosen not to supply the drug because of the small volumes required in the country.
Dr Dilky Rasiah, acting medical director of Pharmac, said the firm was "pulling out all the stops to rectify the supply shortage as quickly as possible". Rasiah also defended Pharmac's response, adding it was difficult to see how the NZMA's comments had helped the supply problem.
The agency said it was completing arrangements with an alternative supplier, AstraZeneca, to provide a substitute drug.
Last month the UK's Department of Health (DH) issued guidelines to tackle similar supply problems in England.
A spokesman told SM there had not been a specific example that prompted this. Drug companies are urged to alert the DH if shortages are likely to have an effect on patient care.
Nigel Brooksby, president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, who helped draw up the guidance, said: "Rare and unforeseen circumstances can disrupt the supply of medicines. The guidance has been produced to ensure that all in the supply chain can work together."