Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted pain relief patches must be curtailed because of addiction concerns and over-subscribing by doctors.
The removal of free Veratis patches for patients has caused outrage and seen unprecedented numbers of people contact the media as well as politicians.
Thousands have seen their access to the pain relief patches removed “overnight,” claimed Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in the Dáil. He said this was the “cruellest” action and the patches, used by some 25,000 people, had been removed for around 90% of patients.
This was the equivalent of “shutting down an accident and emergency” department. Every day was now like a “living hell” for sick patients now affected by the clampdown on usage, he added.
While the changes were about cutting costs, Mr Martin said, this had caused “great pain”.
He called for the patch suspensions to be stopped and for “due diligence” to be done on the matter.
“Allow people get their lives back,” declared the opposition leader.
Mr Varadkar replied that he himself had been contacted by patients affected. He has also spoken to the Health Minister on the matter.
The allocation of patches for patients was like medicine, Mr Varadkar explained.
In Ireland, the specific patches were only prescribed for patients with post-shingles symptoms.
But a lot of doctors were now giving them out for other reasons, he said.
Controls were needed otherwise people would become “dependent” on them, he told the Dáil.
Ten times as many people used them here compared to Britain, it was also noted by the Taoiseach.
A process of appeals was now in place and some patients had been put back on patches, he told Mr Martin.
“The HSE has advised me that the turnaround time for initial applications is three working days and it is five days for appeals. As of last Friday 1,500 post-shingle patients have been approved for it and the patch is being provided for them in the normal manner.
“Another 4,784 patients were registered by their GPs for uses other than post-shingles pain and 14% of these patients — 670 — have been approved.
"This means there are now more than 2,300 patients who are approved for the patch in the drug schemes, with more than one third approved for uses other than post-shingles pain.”
Separately, Mr Varadkar said he deeply regrets the treatment of patient Alison McCormack and the fact she was misdiagnosed with breast cancer.
Her case was highlighted by RTÉ’s Prime Time this week and also raised in the Dáil yesterday by Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly.
The Taoiseach said:”I deeply regret the way in which she was treated by our health service, by St James’s Hospital and by members of my own profession. I offer her my sympathies.
“I thank her for her bravery in coming forward and in making her case public so that lessons can be learned and mistakes not repeated. I also wish her the very best in her recovery.”
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