Mr Harris said while he did not know the specific circumstances of the case, he was concerned about what was reported.
“I’ve long been of the view that this country has at times found itself being held to ransom by drugs companies and particularly, being a small country and a small market from a pharmaceutical point of view, that we’ve ended up having to pay over the odds,” he said.
The HSE has confirmed it was told by Aspen Pharmaceuticals’s Irish agent that prices for four lifesaving cancer drugs were increasing and it agreed to those price rises in March 2013 worried that supply of the drugs would be stopped.
Aspen is under investigation by the European Commission’s Competition Directorate for price gouging after evidence was provided by several countries it was imposing “significant and unjustified price increases of up to several hundred percent”.
The HSE said yesterday it had agreed to the increases to keep supplies of the drug flowing as there were no alternative suppliers.
“The HSE made clear in its interactions with Aspen’s then Irish agents that the price increases demanded were being reluctantly accepted,” the executive said. It said there had been no further price increases since March 2013.
Mr Harris said he wanted to examine the case further.
“I’m asking the HSE for more detail in relation to that. Obviously, I would be very concerned if anyone was trying to, in any way, hold to ransom cancer patients and our taxpayers,” he said.
The HSE has had a series of difficult negotiations with pharmaceutical firms over the prohibitive cost of new and recently-trialled drugs such as Respreeza for emphysema, Orkambi for cystic fibrosis, and a number of highly specialised cancer medications. However, the drugs at the centre of the row with Aspen were well established and widely used here.
Under the new supply deal with Aspen, the HSE agreed to pay 240% to 600% more.