Dáil row flares up over withdrawal of pain relief drug Versatis

Varadkar accused of cost-cutting but says HSE withdrew drug for patient safety reasons

Leo Varadkar: told Dáil the pain-relief patch was being prescribed in Ireland for a use for which it was not licensed. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Leo Varadkar: told Dáil the pain-relief patch was being prescribed in Ireland for a use for which it was not licensed. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

 

The withdrawal of the pain relief drug Versatis by the HSE from some recipients was because of patient safety, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He said the patch was being prescribed 10 times as much per capita in Ireland as it was in the UK.

That was because it was being prescribed in Ireland for a use for which it was not licensed and without any sort of controls, he added.

“It is not simply a matter of money,’’ said Mr Varadkar. “It is also a matter of patient safety.’’

The Taoiseach told the Dáil on Wednesday he had discussed the matter with Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Mr Varadkar said the patches were licensed for one purpose only, which was post-shingles pain in adults.

He said it was to be given to adult patients who had localised pain after having had shingles.

They can become dependent on it and there are other long-term side-effects

“Unfortunately, over the course of the past number of years, many doctors have been prescribing it for an off-licence use, for other uses for which it is not licensed,’’ he added.

“That is a legitimate medical practice in certain circumstances, but there need to be some controls around this practice because people can become dependent on such medicines.’’

The Taoiseach said it was an anaesthetic and not something that should be prescribed lightly, given that long-term use could have consequences for people. “They can become dependent on it and there are other long-term side-effects,’’ he added.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he did not accept the Taoiseach’s explanation. “I think it was a cost-cutting measure by any yardstick,’’ he said.

“This has caused enormous trauma to too many people, and the decision needs to be urgently revisited so that people can be given back their lives.”