‘Mini’ budget would pay for lifesaving drugs, say Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil will create a “mini-budget” funded via “top-slicing” from all departments to pay for expensive medical drugs currently unavailable to patients, if elected to power.

The opposition party’s leader, Micheál Martin, made the commitment after recent controversies about high-profile drugs for cystic fibrosis (and other conditions), which the HSE cannot afford — even though they radically improve a person’s chances of survival.

Mr Martin said a government should not “play the gatekeeper” and say “we’re going to let that person over there say that person can’t live another 10 years”. He said that system was wrong and failing people in need.

Currently, the HSE’s National Centre for Pharmaco-Economics decides which new drugs Ireland should purchase each year, based on their cost, effectiveness and the number of people who will benefit from them.

The group — which has a limited budget and must negotiate with pharmaceutical firms so that it can make best use of its money — often must help one set of people with life-threatening conditions while ignoring others.

While accepting the difficulties the drugs group faces, Mr Martin — who was health minister between 2000 and 2004 — said the lack of adequate funding was putting people’s lives at risk.

In a pre-election commitment, he said his party would introduce a new “mini-budget” to pay for the medications by “top-slicing” money from all departments, if it gained power.

Hitting out at the lack of new funding in the HSE’s 2016 budget for new drugs, Mr Martin said: “There is no new money at all for any new drugs that come on the market [in the HSE plan]. The chief executive of the HSE is saying he has no money. But there is money there.

“For example, why not do top-slicing from all departments and create a hypothecated fund that is there for new drugs and new technologies? We should, because I don’t think we can be playing the gatekeeper and saying we’re going to let that person over there say that person can’t live another 10 years.

“I’m not saying there shouldn’t be assessment. There has to be assessment, of course, because some drugs make no improvement at all, they’re just the same drug under a different name.

“But where it’s demonstrated that this drug is game-changing, then you’re going to have to produce the money to get it. Of the entire government expenditure, we could take a small, 00.1% of that and you would have enough every year. You could top-slice from other departments’ budgets.

“I’m simply saying we should hypothecate the new budget and create it from the overall pool of expenditure,” he said.

There had been considerable anger in the Dáil about the HSE’s decision not to purchase the Orkambi cystic fibrosis drug, which could potentially transform the lives of half of the 1,200 people suffering from the condition in Ireland.

In mid-December, Mr Martin asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny why he did not tell people that the exchequer has prioritised other departments over health, and that the lack of funding for the drug was one consequence.

Mr Kenny said that the decisions over which drugs to purchase “are not political, they are made on objective, scientific grounds” and that government has no role to play in the matter.

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