Hundreds of patients are being denied fast access to vital stroke, multiple sclerosis, bipolar disorder and hepatitis C drugs because the HSE is “rationing” money for new treatments.
Pharmaceutical sector representatives made the claim after a new skin cancer drug was only given the go-ahead due to media criticism over its lack of availability.
Sources said between 10 and 15 drugs which are cleared for funding have witnessed delays in recent months due to health service cutbacks.
These include the skin cancer drug Ipilimumab at the centre of this week’s forced Government U-turn; stroke drug Pradaxa; bipolar disorder drug Sycrest; hepatitis C drug Victrelis; and multiple sclerosis drug Gilenya.
Until last autumn, when a drug price agreement between pharmaceutical firms and the Department of Health ran out, it is claimed this situation did not occur.
However, in recent months, the sector said drugs cleared for funding have not received money.
A similar claim was made by consultant oncologist and independent senator, Prof John Crown, on Thursday’s Morning Ireland.
“There is an impression to the point of certainty that we are now seeing a dramatic change in the procurement process for new drugs.”
Normally, when trials are completed, the company goes for regulatory approval. Prof Crown said, at that stage, the drug is traditionally available in Ireland.
But he said every area of speciality is concerned something has happened.
When asked if the delays are because “the country is broke”, he added: “That is exactly what has happened. Clearly a new form of drug rationing has emerged.”
The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association said it had concerns over funding delays and the Government’s intervention in the recent Ipilimumab furore.
“We are concerned about the decision-making process to reimburse Ipilumumab, while other medicines are still not being reimbursed, meaning that patients at risk of stroke, or those with multiple sclerosis, heart disease, hepatitis C or bipolar disorder are still not able to avail of new medicines.
“We fully support the agreed transparent process whereby new medicines are evaluated for their cost-effectiveness and value for money.
“Again, we request the Department of Health respect that process and allow Irish patients access to these advanced medicines that are routinely available in other countries.
“It is important that there is a fair and equitable process that does not arbitrarily prioritise a particular illness or particular group of patients,” a spokesperson said.
A HSE spokesperson said there has been “no change” in funding policy for new drugs, and several medications “are still going through the approval process”.
“The process is ongoing, but the important point is that it is subject to funding. It doesn’t matter who recommends it, it is still subject to funding,” she said.
While the National Centre for Pharmoeconomics deemed that Ipilimumab was not value for money, the National Cancer Control Platform gave it the funding green light in January.
However, the HSE did not sign off on funding for four months, until Thursday evening, after the matter led to a public and political storm.
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