Friday 23 March 2018

HSE group to consider funding for two new life-saving cancer drugs

New Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
New Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke

Eilish O'Regan, Health Correpondent

A special drugs group in the HSE is expected to meet on Wednesday to consider funding for two new cancer medicines.

Cancer specialists have warned that time is running out for a group of patients with advanced skin cancer and other forms of the disease who could benefit from the blockbuster drugs.

Health Minister Simon Harris said this evening he has asked the HSE group to convene this week to discuss making the drugs pembrolizumab and nivolizumab available under HSE schemes.

He said he was very concerned about the patients involved. It is unclear if the funding of the drugs will come out of HSE funds or whether the Department of Expenditure and Reform will have to make more money available.

The HSE has insisted it has a responsibility to source the most effective medicine on behalf of patients at an affordable price to the taxpayer.

"As is the case for all new medicines, the clinical benefits of pembrolizumab and nivolizumab are being carefully considered under a process of health technology assessment, in order to determine value for money and patient benefits.

It estimated if it had to pay the price demanded by Merk Sharpe and Dohme for mbrolizumab it would cost €64m over five years.

"Affordability of drugs generally, and of new medicines, is an issue globally and there are a range of other new medicines also becoming available to the market in 2016.

"The HSE must operate within its allocated budget for 2016 and within this prioritise the allocation of resources across the entire health system. In the 2016 HSE Service Plan an additional €7 million was allocated for Cancer Drugs to support the National Cancer Control Programme's Systemic Therapy Programme."

It has been claimed that decision on funding expensive new medicines was being removed from the HSE, and given to the Department of Expenditure and Reform , with senior Ministers having the say on whether they be made available to patients.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said the HSE will continue to assess and make decisions in relation to new medicines in the normal manner.

However, decisions that would have a substantial budget impact for will go to the Department.

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