C&AG report: Spend on hi-tech drugs hits €485m

Spending on hi-tech drugs hit €485m last year, almost double the amount spent in 2009.

The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) found that while the patient care fee has remained relatively static at around €17m a year, the amount spent on drugs and medicines has jumped from €315m in 2009 to €468m in 2014.

The HSE pays pharmaceutical suppliers directly for the drugs and medicines, and the community pharmacies receive a monthly patient care fee for overseeing the treatment.

The report examined the supply and dispensing of hi-tech drugs to patients through community pharmacies under the primary care reimbursement service.

The €485m spent on the hi-tech drugs scheme was comprised of €468m to 18 pharmaceutical suppliers for the supply of drugs and medicines to pharmacies and €17m to pharmacies for monthly patient care fees.

The C&AG noted that the HSE’s system for making payments to the pharmacies and to the pharmaceutical suppliers “is not a fully integrated electronic system”.

“The absence of an integrated electronic processing system presents a number of risks to value for money,” said the report.

Controls to ensure that drugs invoiced and paid for have been delivered to pharmacies were found to be “inadequate”.

In a separate chapter of the report, the C&AG criticised the HSE and two of the largest voluntary hospitals in the country — Beaumont Hospital and St James’s Hospital in Dublin — for not complying in a timely manner with changes in law for prompt payments for goods and services.

Under statutory guidelines in place since March 2013, the HSE must pay for goods and services within 30 days. If payments are not made by then, interest and compensation must also be paid.

The HSE said none of the locations examined were found to be paying compensation for late payments.

“The HSE should monitor legislation to identify changes that have implications for its operations, and those of bodies it funds.

“Notification and guidelines should be disseminated in a timely manner to ensure consistency across the health system, and compliance by health agencies with their legal obligations,” the report recommended.

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