Cancer patients hit by shortage of chemotherapy drugs

Treatment rescheduled after production problems at Irish hospitals’ sole supplier

Chemotherapy-drug shortage: some oncologists have had to switch patients from intravenous to oral therapy. Photograph: iStock/Getty

Chemotherapy-drug shortage: some oncologists have had to switch patients from intravenous to oral therapy. Photograph: iStock/Getty

 

Up to 50 cancer patients have been affected by a shortage of chemotherapy drugs in hospitals across the State, according to the HSE.

The patients have been told that their normal treatment appointments are being rescheduled because of the shortfall. Deliveries of the intravenous drugs are expected to resume next Tuesday, as alternative arrangements for their compounding are made.

Baxter Healthcare, the monopoly supplier of compounded chemotherapy drugs to Irish hospitals, admitted it is experiencing a “temporary supply constraint”. “We are doing all we can to restore production capacity as quickly as possible and minimise the impact,” a spokeswoman said.

She apologised to patients and doctors and said production was expected to resume next week. “We are working with other Baxter compounding units in the UK to identify if any extra capacity can be utilised, advising hospitals to identify alternative supply arrangements and working diligently to revalidate equipment, which is necessary to resume production.”

The HSE described the problem as regrettable but said the vast majority of chemo patients would not be affected.

The Irish Cancer Society expressed concern that some cancer patients may not be getting the treatment they need because of the drugs shortage.

The Society said patients were focused on getting the most effective treatment available: “Worrying about how the supply of drugs will affect this treatment, could have a negative impact on patients who may already be experiencing significant distress”.

It said the vast majority of appointments would continue as scheduled and patients should attend unless contacted by the hospital saying otherwise.

Contingency plans

Donal Buggy, head of services and advocacy, said contingency plans should be put in place by all cancer-treatment suppliers so that if supply is interrupted, patients are not affected.

Three-quarters of chemotherapy products are made at compounding units within hospitals. The rest are largely manufactured by Baxter, a US multinational that took over the only other supplier, the Irish-owned Fannin Compounding, in 2015.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission cleared Baxter’s acquisition of Fannin despite finding that it would result in a significant reduction in the commercial supply of chemotherapy products to hospitals in the State.