Quarter of new drugs rejected for State schemes

Conference told innovative medicines must provide ‘real value for fair prices’

One-quarter of new medicines introduced into the Irish market are rejected for reimbursement under the State-funded drug schemes, a conference has heard.

The products were rejected "at the submitted price", leaving manufacturers the scope for a positive decision if they drop their prices, according to Prof Michael Barry, clinical director of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics.

New medicines developed to treat diseases such as cancer and hepatitis C have been hailed as major advances but they come at a very high price. The role of the centre is to decide whether they are cost-effective or not.

The new products must offer "real value for fair prices", Prof Barry told the annual conference of the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association.


Of 55 products submitted this year, half were swiftly approved for reimbursement, 22 per cent required a health technology assessment to be caried out and 24 per cent were not recommended, he said.

The health budget was fixed, he pointed out, and money spent on expensive drugs was money not available in another area.

The 85 per cent of the health budget not spent on drugs should also be assessed for waste, said Prof Barry, who pointed out that alcohol accounts for 50 per cent of hospital admissions.

Eibhlin Mulroe, chief executive of patient group Ipposi, said it was tough for patients to hear arguments over the high cost of drugs when they urgently needed access to new treatments.

Decisions about prescribing new drugs should be made between patients and their clinicians, she suggested.

Prof Barry said he “wasn’t sure” it should be left to clinicians to make such decisions. A lot of them were “not up to” the impact it would have on other areas of the health service, he added.

Boris Azais of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations said that although society was ageing, the important factor was the number of additional years people spent in good health. The pharmaceutical industry has a key role in achieving this goal.

“If we can do this, we will not only improve people’s lives but also increase economic productivity and wealth creation,” he said.

“With an ageing population living with multiple diseases, the focus needs to shift from preventing mortality to improving quality of life and function. Medicines provide a solution to these pressing demographic challenges that will have such an impact on health and government spending.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times