Tuesday 20 February 2018

Patients fighting cancer denied top treatment as HSE out of cash

Warning: Oliver O’Connor
Warning: Oliver O’Connor

Niall O'Connor and Eilish O'Regan

Patients suffering from cancer and other illnesses are missing out on a number of advanced new treatments that the HSE wants to make available - but cannot fund.

The drugs have passed all stages of assessment, including agreed price, but the HSE cannot afford to pay for them from its own budget and needs the Department of Health to make a case for extra funding.

It is estimated there are now 10 critical new medicines currently badly delayed for patients who need them.

They include the drug Erivedge, made by the pharmaceutical company Roche, which treats patients with the advanced skin cancer.

Also caught in the funding log-jam is the drug Entresto, made by Novartis, which treats patients with heart failure and can reduce risk of death from the condition.

An application to the Department for funding the drug Brintellix, manufactured by Lundbeck to treat depression, has also been made by the HSE.

Oliver O'Connor, chief executive of the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, warned: "The HSE now has no budget available for new medicines.

"This is unacceptable. Despite very large savings to the State, medicines that are routinely available in other EU member states are not available to patients in Ireland."

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A spokesman for the HSE said: "In some cases additional resources have to be sought for drugs that are not affordable within the existing HSE allocation."

Funding has already been sought this year for the cystic fibrosis drugs Orkambi and Kalydeco after a long-running campaign by patients and protracted price negotiations with the pharmaceutical company Vertex.

Mr O'Connor said from July 1, the cost to the State of 780 medicines will fall and generate additional savings to the State of an estimated €15m. This is part of the four-year deal agreed with the Department of Health last year.

Part of the agreement provided for a framework which would make expensive new medicines available to patients in "a timely way".

He said: "We have played our part. The HSE is now routinely sending medicines it has agreed and wants to fund for patients to the Department of Health for approval because there is now no more budget available for new medicines. This is entirely unacceptable.

"Other European countries have systems in place which enable new medicines to become available to patients within six months. The process in Ireland is clogged up, pushing us behind our European c ounterparts.

"A European survey of medicines over 2012-15 has shown Ireland to be 16th out of 26 countries in terms of the number of newly authorised medicines being made available to patients. This situation is most likely worse in 2017."

A spokesman for the HSE denied any slowdown in assessing drugs.

He said: "The HSE will usually engage in detailed commercial negotiations with the individual companies concerned which can take a substantial amount of time.

"It is important to note that the actual price after negotiations can often be significantly lower than that which was first demanded by the drug company."

He insisted: "The HSE strives to reach a decision regarding drug approval in as timely a manner as possible, because of the significant monies involved, there is an onus to ensure that the best price is achieved as these commitments often feature multi-million euro investments on an ongoing basis."

Irish Independent

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