Some 15,000 people suffering from chronic illnesses may face delays in receiving their medicines due to a new ordering system for special drugs brought about by the HSE.
The Irish Pharmacy Union has written to the HSE to outline its concerns, and has issued a leaflet to pharmacists to warn those affected.
The leaflet says that the HSE has brought in “new rules” for ordering ‘High Tech’ medicines that must be prescribed by a consultant.
It says the changes “mean that you must have a valid in-date High Tech prescription from your consultant before your pharmacist can order the medicine for you”.
The IPU said the new HSE rules mean pharmacists can no longer hold the medicines in question in stock in anticipation that they will be required by customers.
“This change could cause a delay in you receiving your medicine,” the leaflet warns, adding that the IPU has expressed its concerns to the HSE regarding the potential for delays.
However, the HSE has denied the new arrangement amounts to a change of its rules, and said the system “will not pose a delay to patients access to medicines, once the order is placed in a timely manner".
“In 2017, the HSE introduced a High Tech Ordering Monitoring and Management Hub to enable ordering of High Tech medicines by pharmacy, via the HSE to suppliers,” the HSE said in a statement.
“The HSE has not changed the rules in relation to ordering. The HSE has extended the Hub to additional specialties in recent weeks.
"The HSE can give assurance that the Hub provides greater visibility and transparency around the ordering of High Cost medicines which will cost the State approximately €800m in 2019,” it said.
The Irish Examiner has seen a letter from the IPU to the HSE, in which it notes the latest phase of the deployment of the Hub will encompass High Tech medicines used in rheumatology, dermatology and gastroenterology, affecting approximately 15,000 people.
“We have raised concerns and issues with you previously regarding the operation of the Hub and we acknowledge the work that has been done to address many of the concerns and resolve specific issues,” the letter states.
“However, given the high patient numbers and medicine volumes associated with this phase of the roll-out, IPU members remain very concerned that it will impact on their ability to procure and supply medicines for their patients in a timely fashion and that unavoidable treatment interruptions and delays will result.
“As the prescriptions are now restricted to consultant signed prescriptions, rather than GP, (with the exception of Urology) and as prescriptions are only legally valid for a maximum of six months, this will necessitate patients having six-monthly reviews, regardless of clinical need or clinician availability.
“Our members are concerned that this will prove to be unsustainable and that as a result patient access to medicines may be negatively impacted,” the IPU told the HSE.