Friday 19 January 2018

Heart drug costs HSE €70k a day despite deal

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

The cost of the single most expensive drug purchased by the Health Service Executive has rocketed to almost €70,000 a day.

And the Sunday Independent has confirmed the 10 most costly drugs currently on the HSE shopping list are now costing an unprecedented €96m each year.

New figures secured under a Freedom of Information request come as health chiefs warn the drugs companies that the current situation is financially untenable in the immediate to long term.

In recent weeks, a deal to save the taxpayer an estimated €750m on a range of pharmaceutical products was agreed between Health Minister Simon Harris and the pharmaceutical sector.

"We had seen our drugs bill spiralling somewhat out of control," said Mr Harris.

However, sources within the health sector warn the development of expensive new products - capable of treating a range of serious illnesses - will force senior medical personnel into making critical decisions where they have to balance medical care with cost control.

An example of spiralling prices is the drug Lidocaine, which tops the HSE list. It can be used in the treatment of heart rhythm disturbances particularly in cases of suspected or proven heart attack.

Costs have shot up from €12m in 2013 to €23m in 2015, mainly as a result of it being prescribed to a much greater number of patients.

Under the General Medical Services (GMS) scheme, the second most expensive drug on the HSE list is Salmeterol and related drugs used to treat obstructed airways diseases.

Salmeterol essentially works by relaxing the muscles in the airways to improve breathing.

It is also used in the treatment of emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Denosumab is third on the list, with a current bill of almost €10m.

This is an antibody for the treatment of osteoporosis and other bone loss conditions.

Other costly drugs are used in the treatment of bronchitis, asthmatic problems, the treatment of severe pain and inflammation, epilepsy and anxiety disorder.

The cost of drugs used by the Irish medical services has been a source of contention for a number of years, with a number of experts arguing the prices being charged are out of line with similar sized markets.

As part of a new arrangement, the countries against which Irish drug prices will be benchmarked is being expanded to 14.

It will include Greece, Portugal, Itlay, Sweden and Luxembourg.

The HSE drugs unit will have final say for new products deemed to be necessary and costing €20,000 per patient.

However, medicines costing over €40,000 must await a final decision at a senior level in the HSE. It is also proposed there will be more "clarity and transparency" when the effectiveness and the cost of a new drug is being assessed.

However, the deal is unlikely to lead to any savings for patients buying drugs in pharmacies.

Sunday Independent

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