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IPHA responds to Dr Sara Burke’s column ‘The price of saving lives’

Dr Sara Burke in a comment piece in your 5 March edition acknowledges that progress has been made in reducing the cost of drugs. But in other respects, her commentary was not entirely fair to the facts.

The President of the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), Dr Leisha Daly, recently gave evidence to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on the cost of prescription medicines.

She told the Committee that the average price per item in the HSE community drug schemes has fallen every year since 2009. The average cost per item is now running at 2001-2002 levels in the medical card (GMS) scheme — a fact recently confirmed by Minister Leo Varadkar. These reductions are a direct result of savings agreed between IPHA member companies and the State. Minister Varadkar has confirmed that the savings were €1.5 billion between 2006-2013 and that the current agreement is delivering savings of more than €400 million.

They have also set out a pathway of access to the latest and most innovative medicines for patients. Last year alone, the agreement allowed IPHA companies to bring at least 29 new medicines to Ireland which have the potential to benefit over 700,000 patients.

Dr Burke unfortunately claimed that the cost of medicines are “exorbitant”, that “we still pay more and too much for many of our drugs” and “it’s ‘big pharma’ that dictated overpriced drugs in Ireland”. These claims are at odds with the facts. Prices in Ireland are neither the highest nor the lowest in Europe.

The Oireachtas Committee heard that prices for patent-protected medicines are within 1.8 per cent of the average of nine other EU countries, as provided for in our agreement with the State. It’s hardly exorbitant if our prices are the average of those for 305 million people in the European Union.

A distinction between the prices of patent-protected, innovative medicines, and generic medicines, should be made. Dr Daly provided some evidence showing that the price of generic medicines, which are not covered by the IPHA Agreement, are above the average in the nine countries we refer to.

Far from dictating the price of medicines in Ireland, the price of new medicines are set according to a model agreed between IPHA and the Department of Health and HSE. Each price is, in addition, reviewed by the HSE before agreeing to reimbursement. It is a balanced agreement with strategic value. IPHA, the HSE and the Department share the goal of a stable and economic supply of new and existing medicines to Irish patients.

On the question of the share of the public drug budget spent on patented drugs, we believe that less than half the value is now protected by patent and not subject to competition, rather than the figure of 78 per cent used by Dr Burke.

Finally, Dr Burke refers to my time as a special advisor to the former Minister for Health, Mary Harney, when an earlier agreement was negotiated. For the record, I did not participate in negotiations on the 2006 IPHA agreement. My role finished in September 2010. The current Agreement was decided by Minister James Reilly. Both agreements have delivered savings in the public interest, for which both Ministers and IPHA deserve credit.

Attention is now turning to the negotiation of a successor agreement. IPHA is committed to continuing a process with the State which has delivered significant savings and will ensure that patients get access to new and existing medicines as quickly as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Mr Oliver O’Connor,

IPHA Chief Executive.

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