The lack of medicines has been a constant in Portugal in recent months. This week, the Ministry of Health announced that the prices of the cheapest drugs will increase by 5% to facilitate access and avoid stockouts.
How much increase are we talking about?
“Medicines with a retail price (PVP) of up to 10 euros have their price updated by 5% and those with prices between 10 and 15 euros will be updated by 2%”, said the Ministry of Health, explaining that this update takes place at the margin of the usual Annual Price Review process.
As for medicines with a price above 15 euros, their price will be revised by comparison with the average of the four reference countries (Spain, France, Italy and Slovenia), he says, explaining that, in this case, and whenever the price is above the average, there will be a reduction of up to a maximum of 5%.
Why this measure?
“This administrative increase in prices aims to promote access to medication in Portugal, contributing in the medium term to lower costs for the SNS and for the Portuguese, by preserving the sustainability of the cheapest products on the market, namely generics”, stresses the Ministry.
The price review, which in addition to facilitating access to cheaper medicines, “protects people from the effect of inflation”, is part of a set of measures that the Ministry of Health will advance in the first half of this year.
The objective, he stresses, is “to facilitate access to medicines and avoid situations of rupture, responding to the concerns expressed by users, health professionals and the sector and seeking to guarantee the best conditions of access, as well as the confidence of citizens in relation to the medicine circuit”.
Are there other measures in place?
The Ministry of Health also added that, in addition, two new mechanisms for the protection of people will be immediately developed, namely the creation of a list of essential, critical medicines, whose availability will be monitored in a particular way and in relation to which specific measures will be taken that may include the exceptional price revision.
“The definition of the concept of excessively expensive medicine, by reference to the increase in sales volume and market share, which will lead to a reduction in the respective price still during the year 2023” is another mechanism developed by the Government.
Are there drugs that are going to leave the market?
The Ministry stated that problems in the production and distribution of medicines have been affecting European countries across the board, with public reporting of situations of unavailability of medicines, corresponding to cases in which it becomes more difficult to accommodate the effects of inflation and in which there is risk of these products being withdrawn from the market.
“Although, in the overwhelming majority of times, there are equivalent medicines that can be dispensed to patients, this situation can cause inconvenience to patients and health professionals, which is important to be careful about”, with the price update, taking into account the proposals of the several industry partners.
Missing essential medicines?
The Minister of Health, Manuel Pizarro, admitted that, although there is no shortage of essential medicines, the shortage of drugs causes discomfort for users and overloads the work of health centres, considering the announced measure to avoid disruptions to be “very balanced”.
The minister exemplified that, when a medicine is missing, the user “has to go back to the doctor to change the prescription” and explained that “this causes disturbance to people, and causes work overload in health centers”.
But shortages of antibiotics have been reported. Why?
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced this Friday that “additional measures” are being analyzed to minimize the impact of the shortage of antibiotics in Europe, aggravated by the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and inflation.
“The European Commission, the HMA [entidades reguladoras nacionais] and the EMA are cooperating closely to analyze whether additional measures can be taken to mitigate the impact of these shortcomings”, said the European agency.
“A recent increase in respiratory infections has led to an increased demand for antibiotics such as amoxicillin, especially with pediatric formulations”, explained the European regulator.
In addition, the difficulties in producing these drugs “have led to supply problems that affect most Member States”, acknowledged the European agency, adding that supply problems also affect other countries outside the EU.
How is the shortage of medicines controlled in Portugal?
The National Association of Pharmacies (ANF) told Lusa that it has seen a worsening shortage of medicines in Portugal since the last quarter of 2022, but assured that there have been alternatives on the market for the missing drugs.
Infarmed monitors information on shortages, disruptions and cessation of medication sales on a daily basis, in order to identify and avoid critical situations that could affect their availability.
A list of medicines whose export is temporarily suspended is defined on a monthly basis, which includes medicines that were out of stock in the previous month and whose impact has been considered medium or high according to the availability regulation.
According to the list updated on January 9, the export of around 110 drugs is currently suspended, including several with the active substances amoxicillin, ibuprofen, paracetamol and amylase.