Crunch meeting fails to agree funding for new medicines

Drug companies told there is no budget and no plans for supplementary health budget

Nine medications are currently stalled at the desk of the Minister for Health even though they have been approved for use by the Health Service Executive

Nine medications are currently stalled at the desk of the Minister for Health even though they have been approved for use by the Health Service Executive

 

Drug companies are increasingly frustrated at the Government’s failure to offer any assurances on clearing a logjam of new medicines that are waiting for funding.

Nine medications are stalled at the desk of Minister for Health Simon Harris even though they have been approved for use by the HSE. The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) said the medicines were “routinely available” across Europe.

However, what IPHA described as a “crunch meeting” in recent days with officials from the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform failed to deliver any commitments to find resources to allow patients access the drugs for conditions including cancer, heart disease and skin conditions.

“They just say that there is no budget and that there is no prospect of a supplementary budget to cover health costs,” said one industry source.

IPHA chief executive Oliver O’Connor said there had been no progress on providing patients with access to new and innovative medicines.

“Instead they are routinely delayed and sent for political decision to the Minister for Health,” he said.

The failure to get funding for new high-tech medicines is a matter of concern for the pharmaceutical sector as the first anniversary of the Framework Agreement on the Supply and Pricing of Medicines to the Health Services looms on Tuesday.

Back at the time the agreement was signed, Mr O’Connor said providing new medicines to patients “is as important as savings”.

“Patients and their doctors rightly expect that savings would be applied to providing new medicines to them as quickly as possible.”

Reimbursement

Just one year on, only two high-tech medicines have been approved and IPHA contends that the nine waiting in the queue have been waiting for an average of 2½ years since their initial application for reimbursement.

A further 14 new drugs are expected to join that queue by year end.

“IPHA pointed out this failure of policy to the State’s agreement negotiating team but no resolution was offered,” Mr O’Connor said of the meeting in recent days. “There was no indication that anything would change in future.

IPHA maintains the HSE has enough money to fund new medicines, not least given the €140 million of savings that the drug pricing accord has delivered.

It also notes that the Department of Health was reported in the exchequer returns for June to be underspending its budget by €21 million.

“No evidence was offered showing an inability to fund new medicines this year. Yet the delays continue,” Mr O’Connor said.

“You certainly can’t bring the best treatments to cancer patients and others if you provide for no growth at all in the medicines budget.”

The HSE stated last month that, in spite of the price agreement with IPHA, spending on medicines continues to grow. It points out a 5 per cent rise in the cost of high-tech drugs this year alone.