At least 4,000 seriously ill patients may not get vital drugs due to Budget 2024 decision

Potentially life-saving medicines may not be available next year due to Coalition move not to provide required funding

At least 4,000 seriously ill patients may be unable to access potentially life-saving medicines next year due to the Government’s decision not to provide funding for new drugs in last week’s budget.

They include about 1,000 cancer patients hoping to access 23 new medicines going through a funding approval process, and 3,300 patients with other conditions that could be treated by 11 new medicines in the pipeline, according to industry estimates.

The new medicines that are likely to be affected by the funding freeze have been developed to treat cancers, cardiovascular diseases, HIV, auto-immune diseases, dermatology, kidney disease and musculoskeletal diseases for children.

Some of these drugs have already proven their worth for treating specific cancers but are now the subject of funding applications to treat other cancers.


A budget decision not to fund new developments in any of the clinical programmes in the health service is also likely to have a severe impact on patients across a wide variety of areas, including cancer, maternity services, diabetes and critical care.

The lack of additional funding for clinical programmes will result in a “significant slowdown” in their further development, HSE chief executive Bernard Gloster warned.

According to the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), before the budget decision, 322 cancer patients were set to benefit from eight medicines that have completed a health technology assessment, provided a price could be agreed with the HSE.

For another 15 new cancer drugs, this assessment has yet to be carried out, so the exact number of patients who could benefit is not known. However, based on an examination of market trends, IPHA estimates the potential number of patients who will be hit by the funding freeze on new cancer drugs is about 1,000.

By a similar analysis, it says 3,300 non-cancer patients could be affected.

Last year, 30 new medicines and 30 new uses of existing medicines were approved at a cost of €178 million over the first five years. Figures for this year are not yet available.

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The decision not to provide dedicated funding for new medicines next year — branded a “disaster” by oncologist Prof Ray McDermott — was taken by the Department of Health after it was allocated only one-third of the additional core funding it was seeking in Budget 2024.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the HSE will seek to make savings in the drugs budget through greater use of generic medicines and biosimilars. Any savings achieved will be reinvested in new drugs, he promised.

However, the IPHA said it has already delivered €400 million in savings over the past two years. According to chief executive Oliver O’Connor, the HSE should be told it can continue evaluating and funding new drugs next year while efficiencies are being made, rather than have to wait.

Mr Gloster described the funding allocated to the HSE in Budget 2024 as “inadequate” and forecast a combined deficit for this year and next year of up to €2.7 billion.

With Mr Donnelly aiming to make savings up of €600 million in the health budget in 2024, a freeze on further recruitment this year is already in place in many parts of the HSE.

Mr Gloster said he has funding for an additional 2,200 staff next year, a sharp drop on the 6,000 allocation for this year.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.