'My medication costs €144 a month in Republic - but I can get six-month supply for €50 in North'
A cancer patient from Cork is able to save more than €1,600 a year by buying his medicine in a Newry pharmacy.
Michael Hourigan, from Mallow, needs the hormone-releasing drug Bicalutamide to keep his prostate cancer under control.
He revealed yesterday how he had been paying €144 a month for a supply of the 50mg drug under the HSE's high-tech drug scheme which subsidises expensive medicines.
"But then I was told by another patient that if I went to the North it would be much cheaper.
"I was shocked to find I can now get a six-months supply of the drug in McNally's or other pharmacists in Newry for €50.
"The price difference is astounding. For a retiree like me, this is a huge annual saving."
He said this is the generic version of the branded drug Casodex which he was taking initially.
"I cannot understand why a generic drug is so expensive here," he said.
Under the high-tech drugs scheme, the HSE buys the drug and pays the pharmacist a monthly care fee for the patient rather than a dispensing fee.
The price gap is another example of the rip-off rates which patients and the taxpayer have to shell out for medicines here.
Talks to reach a better deal on branded products have come to a standstill.
The rate of increase in the medicines bill of €1.7bn threatens to spiral.
The HSE has separate agreements with branded and generic drug suppliers.
Commenting on the price difference, Shane O Sullivan who founded the cut-price pharmacy Healthwave in Dundrum, said it is another example of how the Government must ensure reimbursement for medicines is reformed.
"The main problem here is that this drug is classed as high-tech. It should be re-classified from high-tech.
"No matter what pharmacy you go to in the Republic, they have to charge a private patient €144 because it is high-tech.
"The vast majority of these drugs cost around €1,000 a month. But this is an example of one that is too expensive."
Darragh O'Loughlin, head of the Irish Pharmacy Union, said the reality is that the UK has one of the biggest medicines' markets in Europe with almost the lowest prices.
"The prices in the Republic are coming down but realistically they will never be as low as or lower than the UK because our market is too small.
"They are buying for 60 million people and the HSE is buying for 4.5 million."
The price of generic drugs in Ireland is now reaching the European average.
"Realistically, if we can be average price, it is as much as we can expect," he added.