Patients promised early access to drugs for debilitating illnesses
Patients with life-threatening or debilitating conditions are being offered fresh hope of getting quicker access to powerful and expensive new medicines.
The new-age drugs could be available before being subject to lengthy negotiations over price.
The body representing drug companies, which this month is to enter a new set of negotiations over costs with the State, said it would be proposing an early access scheme for some medicines.
It would mean that patients could get quicker access to the drugs at "an economic price" to the State and a cost that was "commercially viable" to companies, said the Irish Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association (IPHA).
This could happen before they undergo a quality and value-for- money assessment by the Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, which can approve it or turn it down for reimbursement.
However, they would still end up being subject to price negotiation with the cash-strapped HSE. The Irish Independent revealed this week the HSE is warning it may have to ration new cancer drugs if it is not granted substantial extra funds.
Oliver O'Connor, IPHA chief executive, said: "Our companies observe that the journey through the HSE's approvals process is lengthening at present. It would appear that this is a resource issue."
It comes as the HSE confirmed it has approved the drug Fampyra for people with multiple sclerosis after agreeing a price with its makers.
Since July 2014, Fampyra has only been available privately at a cost of between €200 and €500 per month. This was prohibitive to most of the patients involved.
A spokeswoman said it was in the final stages of putting in place the rules and processes around how patients should be selected for the drug.
People who have a good response will get it under State schemes, and be checked every six months.
Fintan Lambe, a young journalist who was paying €271.50 a month for the drug, welcomed the decision.
"I am very lucky I am in a position to pay for it. There are some people who are paying more," he said. "It helps with my balance and helps me to walk better, turn corners and get my foot up steps. I have better use of my left hand when I take it."
Multiple Sclerosis Ireland said it was delighted. The drug helps around one-third of patients with walking and mobility.