PHARMACIES will be forced to slash the prices of generic drugs, consumer chiefs predicted last night.
The welcome development follows the establishment of a pharmacy retailing generic- brand medication at rock bottom prices.
Healthwave pharmacy in Dundrum is aiming to offer customers savings of up to 80pc by selling mainly generic brands and cutting its own profits.
Dermott Jewell, chief executive of the Consumer Association of Ireland, described the move as a "game changer", adding that it would lead to reduced prices for consumers.
"It makes perfect sense that the entire sector turns around now and says 'we're now going to have to compete in price'," he told the Sunday Independent last night.
"This is the first move of a very serious competitive nature within the pharmaceutical sector for many years. It's very well intentioned. The reality behind the pricing structure and the transparency of it is very impressive."
He added: "There's no question that with so many consumers relying on having to purchase medicines, they will want to see that rate applied in their local pharmacy and they'll be asking questions as to why they can't get cheaper prices.
"We now have a change whereby it's possible to get an alternative and the doctors approve this. Now that we've seen the price comparison to our nearest neighbour, business is already being lost in that direction.
"That's not because people are travelling to the North for their medicines, but because there's already a player here in Dublin who's offering the best price anywhere."
Shane O'Sullivan, the director of the recently established Healthwave pharmacy, claims that customers may enjoy savings of up to €500 by using his new model pharmacy, which offers a 'Healthpass' service.
For a €25 annual fee, the 'Healthpass' service will enable customers to purchase a month's supply of medication for as little as €2.95.
For asthma sufferers a month's supply of Montelukast 4mg would cost €4.95 compared to a normal price of €25.65 for non-members -- a saving of nearly €250 in a year.
Generic drugs are three times more expensive here than in Britain. Figures show that 80pc of medication dispensed in Britain is generic, compared to just 18pc here.
A generic medicine is equivalent to a branded drug in strength, effectiveness, quality and safety, although they may differ in terms of shape, colour or size and packaging.
Mr O'Sullivan, 27, launched his pharmacy last month in Dundrum shopping centre. Last night he said that more than 1,000 customers had already registered for the 'Healthpass' service.
A spokesperson from the Irish Pharmacy Union last night welcomed the initiative as evidence of the "increasingly competitive nature of the Irish market" but added that it "remains to be seen whether this model will be successful".