Sir, – I refer to your Editorial (May 31st). Contrary to the impression given, prices charged by pharmaceutical companies for medicines in Ireland are broadly in line with prices charged across Europe and are set with reference to other European markets. Since the early 1990s, the prices for prescription medicines have been controlled by a series of agreements between the Department of Health, the HSE and pharmaceutical companies. This has resulted in savings of €600 million to the State in recent years, reflected in price cuts of 35 per cent for products whose patents have expired as part of the 2006 agreement. In February 2010, these medicines were subject to a further price cut of 60 per cent from the original price. Furthermore, in response to a call for emergency savings due to the deteriorating economic situation, the industry agreed to additional savings of up to €200 million in 2011.
The figures on pharmaceutical spending referred to in the editorial date from 2009 and do not take into account these very considerable changes that have taken place due to the savings delivered by the industry.
Expenditure on medicines fell in 2010 and 2011 and is set to fall further in 2012.
While medicine costs have risen in recent decades, they have done so in every European country. This is because of an ageing population, more people being treated, with each patient on average being treated more intensively and better with innovative medicines which are replacing older, less effective ones. This has resulted in reduced illness and death, and better health outcomes.
The IPHA, on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, is endeavouring to negotiate a new agreement with the State that builds upon the success of previous arrangements that have ensured new medicines are available to Irish patients, regardless of income.
Despite the current failure to reimburse new medicines in line with the current agreement, the industry acknowledges that additional savings are required and is prepared to negotiate to ensure that new medicines can be made available.
Legislation has been anticipated for some time and while there is a role for generic medicines, the proposed legislation will decrease the clinical decision- making authority of the doctor while not necessarily delivering savings to the State – such savings could be negotiated as part of the agreement.
It is also of concern that the proposed Health Bill goes much further than what was originally proposed and extends to virtually all areas of medicine supply, giving much greater authority to the HSE as to what medicines are made available. The Bill, as proposed, could severely limit and restrict patients’ ability to get existing and new medicines. – Yours, etc,