New law ‘no threat’ to epilepsy patients’ health

The Government has sought to reassure epilepsy patients legislation aimed at bringing down the cost of drugs will not place their health at increased risk.

Jerry Buttimer said Oireachtas rules could not allow any amendments which would increase costs on the State without the approval of the Government.

Generic medicines would only be allowed to be supplied to patients in cases where they provided the same quality and safety as the drugs they were substituting, said junior health minister Alex White.

“This [legislation] is not a charter for cheap drugs,” said Mr White.

He urged all sides to place trust and confidence in the Irish Medicines Board, which will have responsibility for authorising generic medicines that can be used as substitutes for patent drugs

The Health (Pricing Supply of Medical Goods) Bill 2012 is designed to allow the substitution of patent drugs with generic alternatives to reduce the State’s annual €1.8bn drugs bill.

Mr White said the legislation placed rigorous requirements on the IMB to only allow generic drugs to be interchangeable with patent drugs in specified circumstances.

“The Irish Medicines Board must follow a strict, robust regime,” said Mr White.

He told the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday he appreciated the concerns of Brainwave, the Irish Epilepsy Association, which warned TDs and senators that the bill could have “catastrophic consequences” for the 37,000 people in Ireland with epilepsy.

Mr White rejected calls for a specific exemption for drugs to treat epilepsy to be included in the legislation, claiming there should be no blanket exclusion for any class of medicine.

However, several TDs, including Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin, claimed epilepsy was an exception which should allow for “an exceptional response”.

Several proposed amendments to allow for an exemption for epilepsy medicines were not debated as the committee’s chairman, Jerry Buttimer, said Oireachtas rules could not allow any amendments which would increase costs on the State without the approval of the Government.

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