GPs told to cut prescriptions of costly pain-relief plasters
The cost of providing patients with Versatis pain-relieving plasters is jumping by €8m a year, according to a HSE circular sent to doctors asking for curbs in prescribing the product.
The annual cost is now €40m and this is "difficult to justify" at a time of pressure on essential medicines, according to Prof Michael Barry, the HSE's head of the medicines' management programme.
The decision to confine the use of the product to patients who have been diagnosed with shingles has led to alarm among thousands of others people who are suffering chronic pain and say it had provided vital relief.
It should just be given to patients with post-herpetic neuralgia which is lasting nerve pain in an area previously affected by shingles, the new HSE recommendation said.
But callers suffering other forms of pain have flooded the RTÉ programme 'Liveline', often giving very emotional testimonies about the impact the withdrawal of the product by their doctor will have on their ability to endure their condition.
However, the HSE said the evidence is limited that it works on pain which is not shingles-related.
Under the new rules all new patients who are started on the treatment must be first registered by a GP.
HSE chief Tony O'Brien justified the decision to introduce the stricter criteria for prescribing the plasters.
He said GPs were notified that they had to register new patients online if they wanted to ask approval from the HSE's Medicines Management Programme to prescribe.
He said continued prescribing after three months has also to be approved.
The changes were due to "the drug being inappropriately prescribed by condition and duration." Health Minister Simon Harris, who was also asked bout the patches at the Oireachtas Health Committee, said that there was a need for clarity.
However, several of the patients who previously felt they benefited from the plasters warned that it may mean they will have to resort to more pain-killing medications instead.
It could mean their doctors may have to resort to prescribing an opioid, such as codeine or even morphine.
These are strong types of painkiller which can have serious side effects.