First lung transplants were slashed in an Australian state. Now they are complaining of looming penicillin shortage. Besides a major newspaper talks of serious shortage of many other drugs too in the country.
CSL, the sole Australian penicillin supplier, had announced last week there was just one week's supply of the drug left in the country, provoking a huge public outcry.
The alarmed Therapeutic Goods Administration has said it will fast-track the approval of an emergency penicillin supply.
The Administration, the country's medicine watchdog, says it has identified an international supplier and is working with Australian drug companies to import the medicine into the country within weeks.
Ironically the team which developed penicillin in the 1930s was led by an Australian scientist, a Rhodes Scholar from Adelaide, Howard Florey. He won the Nobel prize in 1945. Thanks to his team's work the drug has saved many lives.
But then it's history. The fact of the matter is that for the next few months the all important drug won't be readily available in Australian hospital medicine cabinets.
Infectious diseases specialist Peter Collignon says the shortage poses an unacceptable risk to patients' safety.
"We have a company that supplies this drug, it's an essential drug for Australia and they can't supply it. Now I think that is a real problem," he said.
The Australian Medical Association federal president, Steve Hambleton said, "It's widely used right across the country and if we had one supplier and there's a glitch in the supply chain and our inventories are pretty low, then the impact will be felt on the frontline and that's what we're seeing now.
He also noted that benzylpenicillin was used to treat a variety of infections from scratchy throats to sexually transmitted diseases.
A blogger commented: "Penicillin? You know, the stuff we invented in the 1940s?...The thing is, there are still bugs that are sensitive to Penicillin, like all Streptococci and most Staphylococci, and rather than nuking your whole body flora with broad spectrum antibiotics and thereby creating an environment that may give rise to the evolution of drug resistances, Strep infections like tonsillitis, skin infections with Staph, and some other conditions like heart valve infections, can be treated very effectively with the sniper gun that is Penicillin. It boggles belief that we could be running short of something as basic as Penicillin in this country. Someone better take responsibility, and maybe look for an alternative supplier in the Yellow Pages.
"This rationing doesn't mean that patient care and treatment of infections are in danger during this period of reduced supply, just to be clear, we have plenty of other antibiotics that will do the trick, but most of them are much broader in their spectrum of which bugs they kill or inhibit, and ideally we want to be treating infections with the drug with the narrowest spectrum possible..."
The Australian, a leading newspaper, says it has obtained a leaked document from a major public hospital showing that more than 40 other drugs, including medicines to manage cardiac arrest and treat cancer, are also out of stock or in very short supply.
The document shows that last week the hospital had run out of calcium chloride, used to treat cardiac arrest, and that Minijet adrenaline, also used in cardiac arrest, was being rationed. Cancer chemotherapy drug doxorubicin was out of stock, as was malaria treatment primaquine.
Hospital specialists told The Australian that drug shortages were a constant problem.
"You can't simply run hospitals like supermarkets. You have to have the ability for surge capacity; you've got to plan ahead," Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said.
A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that most hospitals in the Hunter New England Local Health Network in New South Wales had less than 30 days' supply of most of the clinically essential medicines.
The article by Simon Quilty, an advanced trainee at Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital, says Australia produces less than 5 per cent of the pharmaceuticals it consumes, making it particularly vulnerable when disasters strike or supply problems emerge.
"For many medicines there are only a few sites worldwide, mainly in India and China, that manufacture pharmaceutically active ingredients," Dr Quilty writes.