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ipha 2016 annual conference

Pharmaceutical industry in touch with politicians over proposed new biosimilar legislation

Members of the pharmaceutical industry have been in touch with politicians raising concerns over proposed biosimilar legislation.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Health Deputy Billy Kelleher, who has recently published biosimilar legislation, was speaking at the recent IPHA Annual Conference 2016 in Dublin, the theme of which was ‘Achieving Value and Performance in Healthcare.’

“That is a Bill that is contentious obviously,” said Deputy Kelleher.

“I have received a lot of correspondence from people in this room in that context.”

The legislation is reportedly being examined by officials in the Department of Health. Minister for Health Simon Harris told the Dáil last month that officials in his Department “are currently assessing the whole area of biosimilar medicines and are developing a biosimilar policy”.

“I think broadly speaking, it is only going to be enabling legislation to allow for biosimilars to be made available,” Deputy Kelleher told the IPHA Annual Conference. 

“But at the same time it will still be the regulatory authority that will decide what medicines can be made available and equally just to assure you, it is clinicians that would ultimately be the people who will prescribe or not prescribe biosimilars.

“So there will be no obligation, or legal requirement, or handwringing, or forcing of clinicians or the health service in general to use only biosimilars. It is there to give an option.

“Because again as we become more advanced in the innovative medicines that are available to us, we equally have to be conscious that we have to have a sustainable fund base to purchase those medicines. So wherever we can save money, the Government, and in this case the opposition, have to be creative and imaginative in that area.”

Also speaking at the IPHA Annual Conference, new IPHA President Ms Mary Dickens praised the new pricing agreement reached between the IPHA and Government in the summer.

“Stability in supply, predictability in pricing, and a clear pathway for the adoption of new medicines:  These are things that matter to the State and to our members and even more to patients who want, need and deserve the solutions that medicines provide.

“Already price reductions on hundreds of medicines have happened and savings are being made for the HSE budget. 

“Patients and their treating clinicians can expect that IPHA and the State authorities will make our agreement work to deliver fast access to new medicines.  

“The agreement works if it brings new medicines to people.  So we encourage the HSE to include timely access to new medicines as a performance indicator alongside financial performance issues. 

“While few new medicines have been released since the agreement, we look forward to improvement in the process and timelines.”

Concerns over long-term funding for roll out of EHR

The introduction of the much lauded electronic health record (EHR) in Ireland is being hampered by delays in approving the necessary capital to roll out the project, HSE Chief Information Officer Mr Richard Corbridge told the recent IPHA Annual Conference.

Mr Corbridge sounded a cautionary note when asked during a question and answer session about how much support his work gets.

“Do we have the support? It’s a lonely job sometimes. We have had support; we have a team of people who believe in what we are doing,” said Mr Corbridge.

“Today we still plan for 2017 on a 12-month basis. Today we don’t have the money to begin the [national] EHR procurement. That’s scary.

“Because everyone would prefer if we could keep on moving on to delivering the EHR. Until someone says ‘we agree that this is the right way that we should deliver healthcare’, we cannot actually begin that procurement.

“We can do a lot of small projects…projects that continue to evolve and change and continue to build the relationships we have. That can help massively to deliver so much, [but] until we get that final yes on the EHR being the right thing to do, then it’s still quite a lonely job.”

Mr Corbridge also confirmed that next month Cork University Maternity Hospital will go from “paper to digital” in one weekend, as the first maternity unit to roll out the Maternal and Newborn Clinical Management System, an EHR for all women and babies in maternity services in Ireland.

“There has been 8,500 hours of training in this one hospital to use this system.”

A single national co-ordinated laboratory medicine system will also be launched early next year, Mr Corbridge confirmed.

He added that “47,000 people who work in healthcare today can’t log on to any IT [but] by 23 December, 47,000 people will now be able to log on to IT”.

Need for oncologists with geriatric medical skills highlighted

Ireland needs to introduce specialist geriatric oncologists to cater for the specific needs of older cancer patients, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, Principal Investigator of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), told the recent IPHA Annual Conference.

Prof Kenny outlined the latest findings from TILDA showing increased prevalence of cancer among older patients in Ireland, which is reflected in other international studies.

“Bottom line; cancer becomes much more prominent as people get older. In fact half of all new cancer cases in the UK occur in people over the age of 70,” said Prof Kenny.

“In Ireland we have no oncologist, no cancer specialist, with the skill in cancer coupled with geriatric medical skills.

“But these people are exposed to very, very arduous chemotherapy with all of the associated complications ten-fold more because of age-related underlying co-morbidity at the time of the occurrence of their cancer, a very important factor that we need to address.”

Prof Frank Sullivan, Director of the Prostate Cancer Institute at NUI Galway, spoke at the conference on the need to better assess value across Irish healthcare.

“We have got to increase the percentage of spend in this country [on assessing value]. We are spending €19+ billion in this country on healthcare [but] outside of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE) and the cost utility evaluation around new drugs do we know anything about the value and cost of what we are doing? That has to change, to move us forward.”

‘Soul searching’ needed by Future of Healthcare Committee – Kelleher

Deputy Kelleher was speaking to the Medical Independent (MI) following his address at the recent IPHA Annual Conference in Dublin.

Deputy Kelleher, who is a member of the Committee, said its work is “a huge challenge but equally it is a massive opportunity for this Committee to get broader political buy-in from all political parties so we can have a consistent view of what type of health system we will have in the years ahead.”

The Dáil established the Committee in June with Minister for Health Simon Harris saying it would “develop cross-party consensus on the future of the health service”. It is charged with coming up with a decade-long plan for health and is chaired by Deputy Róisín Shortall from the Social Democrats.

In recent months MI has reported on some concerns, particularly from within Fine Gael, over the structure of the Committee. Other figures in healthcare have questioned whether the Committee will be able to come to a cross-party agreement on a long-term plan.

Deputy Kelleher said that the Committee can make progress in areas such as primary care, but he admitted that it would be challenging to find agreement on wider issues.

“But the broader issues of what type of health system we have, that’s going to be very challenging,” he told MI.

“Firstly, we have got to get people to look at it in a pragmatic way, we have to be honest with ourselves as a Committee and collectively as a society on how we fund healthcare and what we expect from our health services.

“These are key questions that will require a lot of honesty and a lot of soul searching from some individuals. Hopefully there will not be any ideological blockages to people being pragmatic in terms of the type of health system they want.”

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