People dying as life-saving drug row continues, Dáil hears

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been warned his Government is allowing people to die while a life-saving drug is left locked in a warehouse due to an ongoing financial row with a pharmaceutical firm.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin lashed out at the situation during leaders’ questions, which also saw Mr Varadkar heavily criticised over the country’s escalating housing rental prices crisis.

Mr Martin said despite attempts to increase access to life-saving drugs amid negotiations with pharmaceutical firms, the Government is still struggling to address the issue.

Citing the case of Respreeza, a medication which slows progression of the lung condition emphysema, Mr Martin said 21 patients were given the drug by CSL Behring in 2010 as part of a compassionate outreach clinical trial programme.

Last September, the outreach clinical trial ended, leaving the patients without any medication.

Due to Department of Health and HSE negotiations with the firm over the price of administering the drug, the medication’s availability to those who were on the clinical trial was extended until May.

However, in the intervening period two people — Anna Cassidy and Marion Kelly — have died, a situation Mr Martin said is set to be repeated unless the Government acts decisively now and ensures people currently receiving Respreeza continue to do so after May.

“The fact that they did is a very sad reflection on all concerned — company, Government, and our service. It should never have happened,” he said. “They died while there was an unedifying row and the drug was lying in a warehouse.”

Mr Varadkar said the reality is the Government and HSE must try and find the most effective drugs for the most realistic price in order to ensure limited resources can help the most people.

He said he will ask Health Minister Simon Harris to again push for a long-term solution this May. He said this view is based on advice from the HSE’s National Centre for Pharmaco-Economics and it is ultimately still up for negotiation.

Hitting out at the response, Mr Martin said “the bottom line is two people have died”, adding that “while Mr Varadkar can talk about systems all he likes, more people will die if this is not resolved”.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Mr Varadkar of ignoring the housing rental price crisis.

Citing the latest figures from the ESRI and Rental Tenancies Board, which show rents are now higher than during the Celtic Tiger era and that the average rent is €1,511 a month in Dublin and €1,054 nationally, Ms McDonald said “rent certainty or rent affordability is clearly failing, the policy is failing”.

Mr Varadkar said: “I am very aware of the pressures people are under when it comes to rising rents.”

He said the figures show “rents are now increasing at their lowest rate since 2013”, which he claimed is proof that the Government’s policies are working.


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