Patients crossing Border to save on heart drugs

Fri, Aug 10, 2012, 01:00

PRIVATE PATIENTS in Co Donegal and other Border counties are crossing into Northern Ireland to buy their prescription drugs at prices much cheaper than what they pay at home.

Heart patients who don’t have medical cards can save up to €80 on a month’s supply of six commonly prescribed cardiac drugs by having their prescriptions dispensed in the North.

This could amount to savings of about €960 in a year, despite the unfavourable currency exchange rate. One particular drug in the Republic can cost four times the total price of the six drugs combined in the North.

Two chemists in Co Donegal quoted a total price of €96.54 and €96 respectively for a month’s supply of aspirin, clopidogrel, simvastatin, bisoprolol, ramipril and a glyceryl trinitrate spray.

Two chemists in Derry city, by contrast, quoted just £14 (€17.80) and £17 (€21.62) respectively for a month’s supply of the same six drugs. Another Derry chemist quoted £30 (€38.15) for the six.

The major savings reflect a recent report revealing that the HSE is paying 12 times more for drugs than the UK’s National Health Service. Talks are due to begin next week aimed at significantly reducing the State drugs bill.

The general manager of Bradley’s chain of pharmacies in the North, John McArdle, said many patients were travelling from the Republic for their prescriptions.

“People in the know have been doing it for years but the majority of patients wouldn’t know they can get this service in the North,” said Mr McArdle.

“The fact that we are all part of the EU means that legislatively there is no issue with it and the numbers are growing every year.”

But he acknowledged that pharmacists in the South are paying more for drugs and he cautioned against pharmacy services being assessed on price alone.

“There is a difference in what we pay and what they have to pay, and we can pass those savings on as a result.”

Private patients in the Republic also have access to the drugs payment scheme, which caps what they have to pay at €132 a month.

The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) said community pharmacists have “no role” in deciding the base price of medicines, which are set by agreement between the HSE and the major pharmaceutical manufacturers.

“A report produced for the HSE expressed the view that international comparisons of prices cannot be relied on as each market is different in terms of size, structure and regulations,” said an IPU spokeswoman.

“Prices vary from pharmacy to pharmacy and patients will go to the pharmacy that best suits their needs, not alone in terms of price but also in terms of the nature of the professional service that they receive.

“Over the past two years, there have been numerous cuts to the price of medicines in Ireland. This has led to a significant decrease in the cost of commonly prescribed medicines. All of these reductions have been passed on to patients,” added the spokeswoman.