Thursday 19 October 2017

'We have limited money' - Economist claims funding CF drug Orkambi puts other patients' lives at risk

Supporters of people with cystic fibrosis, their families and friends protest at Dáil Éireann over Orkambi. Photo: Shane O'Neill Photography.
Supporters of people with cystic fibrosis, their families and friends protest at Dáil Éireann over Orkambi. Photo: Shane O'Neill Photography.

Kathy Armstrong

Cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi is diverting government funding from other areas and putting people's lives at risk, a leading economist said today.

Anthony McDonnell, an economist with Wellcome Trust, said that he thinks Health Minister Simon Harris was "wrong" to agree to our Government funding the drug and said politicians shouldn't be allowed to make these decisions.

Mr McDonnell stressed that while he is sympathetic to the suffering of people with CF, he feels it wasn't the most cost-effective way to help the most people overall here.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, he said: "Every time the Government decides to fund something in our health system or anywhere else they are essentially deciding not to fund something else, we only have a limited amount of money.

"Compared to Orkambi there are a large number of things you could do that would have a much greater impact on people's lives.

"For example, for a year of Orkambi you could fund 4,000 physiotherapy treatments. At the moment there is a four to five month waiting list for someone who can't work and is in physical pain but can't go to a physiotherapist because the waiting list is too long.

Orkambi lights
Orkambi lights

"There are people on trolleys across the country every day and some of them die because they don't get treatment on time.

"Whatever we do with our money there will be something that we won't be able to fund and at the moment it seems that we are choosing that is very expensive because it's politically popular, rather than putting the money where it could save the most people's lives."

He also said that while it's clear to see how Orkambi helps people with CF, the money is being diverted from services that could also help save people's lives.

He said: "If you listen to a Cystic Fibrosis sufferer with their parent or loved one, they can make a really compelling argument about how Orkambi can meaningfully improve their life.

"While the person who is going to have a heart attack this evening and rely on the ambulance service and there won't be enough ambulances on call to treat them.

"They don't yet know they are relying on all these services and whether the ambulance takes five minutes or ten minutes could be the difference between them living or dying and it's really hard to state as fact to which extent the ambulance contributed to their death because it was slow...

"It's harder to see but it doesn't mean their suffering is less or that those people's lives are less valued."

Mr McDonnell also said that he doesn't think that our politicians are best placed to decide how our healthcare budget should be allocated.

Health Minister Simon Harris said the Orkambi drug would be the most expensive medicine bought by the State (Stock photo)
Health Minister Simon Harris said the Orkambi drug would be the most expensive medicine bought by the State (Stock photo)

He said: "In my opinion he was (wrong), though I do feel slightly for Simon Harris in that there was a lot of pressure upon him.

"But I think going forward we shouldn't have these decisions made by politicians, they should be made by health professionals so they can analyse where every additional euro can help people the most."

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