January 13, 2012
Chronic drug shortages in Greece have left thousands of patients without medicines and paralysed the drug supply chain.
The impact of the ongoing financial crisis in Europe is having a deep impact on patients – and that’s before the possible return of the Drachma which could at least double the relative cost of imported medicines.
The Panhellenic Association of Pharmacists (PAP) says almost half of the country’s 12,000 pharmacies have reported shortages of the most-used medicines.
Drug companies and wholesalers are either out of stock or will not supply medicines for which they will not be reimbursed. Some suppliers have been left without payment for up to two years and have now run out of patience.
As a result, the PAP says their members spend hours on the phone pleading with suppliers and colleagues to provide medicines like aspirin, albuterol and beta-blockers. In some cases, where patients are in dire need, pharmacists’ have resorted to paying for drugs themselves.
In an effort to radically cut costs, the Greek government has introduced price controls meaning wholesalers must charge lower prices than last year. As a result, some suppliers are selling their products outside the country where higher prices are still on offer. In addition, pharmacists complain that the government’s fiscal problems have led to lengthy delays in payments to pharmacists and drug manufacturers which have bred cash-flow problems for retailers.
Public health insurers owe pharmacists around €330 million for drugs bought since April, according to Dimitris Karageorgiou, vice-chairman of the PAP, who acknowledged that some pharmacists are demanding upfront patients from patients who must then chase their insurance companies for reimbursement.
The entire supply chain is close to collapse now that some wholesalers are no longer willing to provide pharmacists with extended credit terms for fear of not being paid.
Last year, large drug companies were forced to accept Greek bonds in lieu of cash owed by public hospitals because the government had run out of money. Some firms cut their losses and left the country while others now insist upon payment on delivery rather than issuing invoices.
At the end of the line are patients, particular those with chronic illnesses, who are often unable to pay for medicines on an ongoing basis, yet know that the prospect of an economic upturn is unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Author : Gary Finnegan