CONSUMERS have expressed fury at 'rip-off' price discrepancies between medicines sold in Northern Ireland and the republic.
Further evidence has emerged of massive differences in prices in pharmacies either side of the border – even for generic drugs, which are supposed to offer patients better value.
The HSE promised it would introduce a new reference pricing system this November, which would cut prices of generic drugs by up to 40pc.
But in the meantime, customers have told the Irish Independent of being charged between five and seven times more for vital medications here as compared to the North.
One customer complained of being quoted €288 for three months' supply of various medicines that cost less than €44 in Northern Ireland.
Another patient told how she was recently charged almost €40 for an anti-fungal skin medication that was available in the North for just €7.50.
The medicine in question is called Terbinafine and she was charged €39.69 for the branded version Lamisil in a Dublin pharmacy.
She was told the generic version was just a few cents cheaper here.
Generic drugs are non-branded medicines which are fully approved by regulatory bodies as having an identical active ingredient and effect as the original patented medicine.
However, while branded Lamisil actually cost slightly more north of the Border, the identical generic drug Terbina-fine was available in Boots in Newry for just £6.33 (€7.53).
The customer, who did not want to be named to protect her medical privacy, said she could not believe the discrepancy.
"It is absolutely outrageous and shows rip-off Ireland is alive and well," she said.
"No matter what they say about this being a smaller market with higher costs etcetera, there is absolutely no excuse for a price differential of that scale," she said.
The biggest price gaps appear to be concentrated in the generic drug field, as some branded medicines such as Lipitor and Lamisil are actually higher priced in Northern Ireland. Another customer who is on a monthly cocktail of five different prescription medicines – Atorvastatin, Aspirin, Ramopril, Bisprolol and Pantaprozole – described the price discrepancy as "scandalous".
She told the Irish Independent she had paid £36.53 (€43.65) for a three-month supply in Northern Ireland.
The same generic medicines had come in at €96.17 for one month's supply in the republic, or €288.15 for three months.
That meant her bill for lifesaving drugs was almost seven times dearer here.
Pharmacies have blamed generic drug manufacturers for setting much higher prices in the Republic than in Britain.
But the Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of Ireland, which represents generic drugmakers, said pharmacies set their own prices to private patients. The APMI claims that this accounts for a lot of the price discrepancy.
APMI president Fergal Murphy said that the factory prices set for generic drugs were inevitably higher than the UK, which had huge economies of scale, as packaging and licensing costs were much higher for a small market.
"Drug prices are already coming down substantially as reference pricing and generic substitution finally comes in," he said.
Meanwhile, the HSE said that it was introducing a new reference pricing system this November, which would cut prices of generic drugs by up to 40pc.
It said that the current maximum reimbursement price it paid for generic Terbinafine issued to public patients was €20.04. But it did not set the mark-ups or fees charged for private prescriptions, as this was a matter for individual pharmacies, it said.