Stronger focus on generic medicines could save HSE cash, says industry report

Medicines for Ireland strategic review calls for agreement with Department of Health on supply and pricing of off-patent medicines

Ireland’s health system is wasting money on medicines by hindering access to generic drugs, according to an industry group.

Medicines for Ireland says health policy decision-makers need to recognise how “increased penetration of generic, biosimilar, and value-added medicines offers significant savings to the State” as well as a chance to treat more patients earlier when they are ill.

“This year, the Department of Health has projected that almost €3 billion will be spent on medicines, representing nearly €1 in every €8 spent by the State on healthcare,” said Paul Neill, chairman of the group which represents the interests of generic drug producers in Ireland.

“It’s well documented how Ireland’s healthcare system is facing formidable challenges underscoring the urgent need for reform to ensure affordability, efficiency and sustainability for patients and the State,” he said. “In the context of these challenges, the significance of a resilient and sustainable generic, biosimilar and value-added medicines industry cannot be overstated.”


His comments came as the group unveiled a new five-year strategic plan for the sector.

Currently, generics account for 58 per cent of all prescribed medicines in Ireland, according to the industry, that it says is well behind the European average of 70 per cent.

Mr Neill said several factors contributed to Ireland’s “lag” in the area. These include the low price at which generics are permitted to enter the Irish market in competition with branded products which have lost their patent protection and pricing structures designed only to lower prices further thereafter.

He said the process to secure a rise in price for a product that may no longer be viable to supply at existing rate involved lengthy timelines.

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“These factors have an overall impact on the attractiveness of the Irish market for manufacturers,” he said.

Irish doctors and pharmacists have been struggling to secure supplies of certain medicines over recent years, with the Health Product Regulatory Authority, which regulates the supply of medicines in Ireland, saying that shortages currently affect 274 medicines, many of them common generic products.

Similar problems exist in markets across western Europe and in the United States where generics makers argue that ultra-low prices make production unsustainable.

“To fully realise the potential of enhanced patient access and affordability through increased penetration, it is pivotal that we foster a market ecosystem which promotes fair competition and availability of medicines over the next five years,” Mr Neill said.

“From the perspective of our members, key to this must be the delivery of a coherent framework agreement on the supply and pricing of medicines with the Department of Health.”

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times