On the rise... almost 50,000 get pills for erectile dysfunction
Almost 50,000 Irish patients received drugs for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED) for free on the medical card last year - a rise of almost 6pc compared to 2016.
The provision of ED drugs such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra to 47,997 medical card holders cost the taxpayer around €2.1m during 2017, bringing the total spend on these medications under the scheme to €44m in the past eight years.
There has been a significant reduction in the cost of the drugs in recent years, however. Viagra's patent expired in June 2013, allowing GPs to prescribe cheaper generic alternatives.
It was also announced last March that doctors would no longer be allowed to prescribe Cialis for card holders. This lasts longer than other ED drugs, but is substantially more expensive - costing up to €33 per pack, compared to just €8 for generic versions.
Accordingly, the cost of providing medical card patients with drugs for the treatment of erectile dysfunction was more than halved from the previous year's figure of €4.5m.
Records released by the HSE under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Local Health Office (LHO) area that could boast the highest number of medical card holders in receipt of ED drugs last year was Dublin North.
A total of 2,400 people were prescribed ED drugs on the medical card in this area during 2017, an increase of 7pc on the previous year. This cost the taxpayer €104,680.
Dublin North was closely followed by the Cork North Lee health area, where 2,395 patients received drugs for ED, a 4pc rise compared to 2016, at a cost of €112,159.
Some 2,376 medical card holders in Galway were prescribed ED drugs in 2017 at a cost of €103,225, while 2,189 patients availed of the medications under the scheme in Limerick at a cost of €101,651.
The LHO area with the lowest number of medical card patients prescribed ED drugs last year was West Cork.
Within the region just 503 people received a boost from the medications under the scheme at a cost of €19,752.