Harris against Cabinet having last say on funding for drugs

Minister for Health says he would rather clinicians made decisions not politicians

The Minister for Health has said he does not agree with a new practice that will see the Cabinet deciding on pleas for financial support for expensive new drugs that the HSE cannot fund.

Simon Harris conceded that it was a concern but said the Cabinet would only become involved in sanctioning a new drug if, at the end of the approval process, the HSE simply did not have the budget to pay for an otherwise welcome therapy.

“It is fair to say that I didn’t think making a decision by that [lobbying of politicians] was the best system and I still don’t think having Cabinet making the decision is the best system,” he said. “I certainly would like if my family relative was ill that decisions would be made by the clinicians.”

However, Mr Harris said he was “very confident” that this process would enhance the clinical path. “You’ll only actually see things going to Government if all of the other processes have been followed through and there is a resource implication at the end that the HSE cannot meet.”

Oliver O'Connor, head of the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, said such a process seemed inevitable. The association negotiated the Framework Agreement on the Supply and Pricing of Medicines with the Department of Health and the HSE.

It represents the major pharmaceutical companies in Ireland which produce and market branded medications.

Despite his members complaining repeatedly that allowing decisions on individual drug approval by lobbying makes it impossible for companies to properly plan their business, Mr O’Connor said last night that “it is just impossible to get rid of it completely”.

Mr Harris also said that, contrary to some media reports, the Government had not "not sanctioned" the funding of cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi, which costs €160,000 a patient annually. He said consideration of funding Orkambi was ongoing.