Reilly in bid to save €50m with drugs plea to doctors
Doctors are to receive letters from Health Minister James Reilly this week asking them to prescribe more generic drugs -- instead of the expensive branded versions.
Currently doctors are free to prescribe branded drugs, even though more cost-effective generic equivalents may be available. Letters are to be sent to doctors, as well as pharmacists who dispense drugs, asking them to switch to generics in a move which the Department of Health estimates could save €50m.
However, regardless of the minister's plea, doctors will continue to have full discretion to prescribe whatever drug they want to, no matter what the price, until long-delayed legislation is in place later this year.
The rising cost of drugs is among the main financial headaches faced by the HSE which is grappling with a budget overrun of €281m.
One of the main reasons for this is the big rise in the number of people with medical cards who are entitled to free drugs. Nearly €65m of the €281m deficit carried by the HSE in May was due to its drugs bill.
Mr Reilly has been criticised for the delay in bringing forward legislation to compel doctors to prescribe more generic drugs.
Under the new legislation, which will not be passed until later in the year, a patient who still wants the branded version would have to pay the difference themselves.
Currently, if a GP states on a prescription that the patient's drug is a branded version, the pharmacist cannot dispense a generic equivalent.
The decision was made to write to the doctors and pharmacists at last week's cabinet health subcommittee, where the HSE's cash crisis was discussed. The doctors will be given back-up information to allow them compare one drug with its generic version.
The HSE has claimed that the minister did not live up to his promises made earlier this year to bring forward the drugs legislation on time in 2012. It is also waiting for other changes in rules which would generate more income from private health insurance companies using public hospitals.
The subcommittee, which is chaired by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, said it was up to the HSE to provide implementation reports on how savings are to be made in areas such as sick leave, overtime, agency staff costs, and costs associated with medical cards.
Dr Reilly said: "Sick leave costs the HSE €280m a year. Agency staff cost a further €250m, and overtime €240m. It is therefore clear that we have the capacity to make major savings without hitting services."