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Innovative medicines have key effect on patients’ lives, yet in Ireland we continue to wait, says IPHA

By Irish Pharmacist - 03rd Jan 2024

The IPHA facilitated a briefing session on access to medicines for members of the Oireachtas at Leinster House recently

At an Oireachtas briefing session recently, TDs and Senators heard of the human impact of delayed access to new, innovative medicines, and the consequences for patients of no dedicated funding. The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) presented data describing medicines which were planned for 2024 that now may not progress due to lack of new development funding. These same medicines are already available in many other European countries, including Northern Ireland, highlighting the inadequacies of the current system for Irish patients.

Budget 2024 runs the risk of even longer waiting times for patients by potentially interrupting the flow of new medicines from January next year. While a commitment has been made by the Government to find funding through existing spend which will be reinvested in new medicines, Irish patients may not have the time to wait while these savings are identified. It is essential that finding these efficiency savings is prioritised in the absence of dedicated funding.

Across all health spending new medicines expenditure is probably the most robustly assessed, and budget impact medicines go through a strict evaluation process to determine if they will improve efficiency and standards of care before being made directly available to Irish patients. Acknowledging the importance of imposing a strict funding assessment, the process does, however, require between 20 and 30 steps before a medicine is approved, taking on average, more than 1,000 days from the start of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomic Evaluations assessment to reimbursement.

Speaking at the event, which was hosted by Senator Tim Lombard, was Jim McGrath, Director of Commercial Policy at the IPHA; Roisin Molloy, who is recovered from breast cancer but also a former oncology nurse and current General Manager of Merck Serono; and Dr Grainne O’Kane, Medical Oncologist at St James’ Hospital.

Oireachtas members were also presented with the result from a recent Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of IPHA which found that:

Four in five Irish people believe that delays exist in public access to new medicines in Ireland;

Compared to our European counterparts, over half believe that access to new medicines is later in Ireland;

When considering specific disease areas:

Almost two-thirds believe access to new medicines for patients with rare diseases is too slow in Ireland, up four points since 2022;

Almost 60 per cent believe that access to new medicines for cancer in Ireland is too slow.

“The availability of medicines in the provision of healthcare, is a crucial and integral part of ensuring universal health coverage which is essential for a functioning healthcare system. Medicines are key to healthy ageing and, given the demographic trends of the Irish population, timely access to medical innovation needs to be a priority.

“However, Irish patients continue to fall behind those in other European countries. As per the IPHA agreement, Ireland is referenced against 14 basket countries, and we have identified medicines that are currently available in all or in most of these countries but not here for Irish patients.

“These are medicines which can improve the health outcomes of patients and make a significant difference to their quality of life.

“To align Ireland with peer countries who adopt medicines faster, we need a continuous and a faster flow of new medicines which will raise the standards of care and health outcomes for Irish patients,” said Oliver O’Connor, Chief Executive, IPHA.

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