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HealthInfo Canterbury

COVID-19 – Public message about medicines supply

People who need to take medicines regularly may be anxious about their continued availability. This is understandable.

Medicine shortages do happen. But New Zealand's medicines supply chain – PHARMAC, pharmacies, distributors and suppliers – works very well to minimise shortages and fairly distribute any medicines temporarily in short supply.

Pharmacies usually dispense prescription medicines in monthly or three-monthly amounts. You shouldn't ask for more than these normal amounts – in other words, please don't try to stockpile your regular medicines. Stockpiling medicines makes it more difficult for pharmacists, doctors and PHARMAC to avoid shortages for everyone.

We all have a part to play in using health services responsibly at this challenging time so that those who need care the most don't have to wait longer than they should.

COVID-19 related disruptions

Until 1 August 2020, pharmacies could only dispense a one-month supply of most medicines. This was because of some COVID-19 related disruptions to international supply chains.

Pharmacies can now go back to all-at-once dispensing of most medicines. But if you have remaining repeats to collect after 1 August 2020, you may continue to receive these in monthly lots.

Some medicines will remain on monthly dispensing. This is if:

Monthly dispensing doesn't cost you any more. You'll only pay the normal prescription charge of $5 for the first monthly amount.

For more information, including about specific medicines, see PHARMAC.

Renewing the prescription of your regular medicines

You should make sure you always have enough of your regular medicines for at least one to two weeks.

When it's time to renew your prescription, you should contact your medical centre. If you're well, they may be happy to renew your prescription without seeing you, or they may offer to talk with you by telephone or online. Ask if these options are available for you.

Your medical centre can send your prescription to your preferred pharmacy. Before going to the pharmacy, please phone them to arrange the best way to get your prescription.

Illness or isolating at home isn't a barrier to getting your prescription and other medicines from your pharmacy. You can:

Note, there may be a small additional charge from your medical centre or pharmacy for services such as sending prescriptions or delivering your medicines.

Unapproved (section 29) medicines

If your usual medicine isn't available because of a supply shortage, your doctor may suggest prescribing an unapproved medicine. This doesn't mean the medicine is unsafe. But before prescribing it, your doctor must discuss the benefits and risks with you. See What are unapproved or off-label medicines? from Health Navigator for more information about unapproved medicines.

Written by Portfolio Manager, Canterbury DHB Pharmacy. Page created March 2020. Last updated March 2021.

Page reference: 728194

Review key: HICOV-710714