More than 10,000 patients with serious medical conditions are waiting for access to 11 medicines which have been stuck in a backlog for over a year due to a political decision to stop funding new innovative treatments, according to the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA).
IPHA, which represents the originator biopharmaceutical industry, said the 11 medicines have satisfied the State’s clinical effectiveness and value for money tests. They treat a range of conditions including cancer, colitis, migraine, short bowel syndrome and Parkinson’s disease. Two of the medicines – for treating melanoma and Parkinson’s disease – are manufactured in Ireland. Most of the medicines are widely available across the EU.
Next year, the industry expects to bring forward 56 new medicines to treat a range of serious medical conditions – but unless there is funding for them they will not benefit patients. IPHA has urged the Government to announce new funding for new medicines in next week’s Budget.
A Government decision last July to stop funding new medicines for the rest of that year has caused a backlog of unfunded treatments. The then Minister for Public Expenditure wrote to the then Minister for Health, saying “no new dugs should be introduced for the remainder of 2019”. That policy decision remains in place, with the exception of funding for a small number of medicines for COVID-19-related conditions.
IPHA has urged the new Government to restart funding for new medicines so that the backlog can be cleared. Progress has been made recently with the reimbursement of some new medicines for COVID-19-related conditions. Another three medicines are being reimbursed through industry-generated savings as part of the decision to extend the current Agreement until the end of January. But 11 medicines are still left in the backlog – and there is no clarity on new funding for the strong pipeline of new medicines coming next year.
The move to clear the medicines backlog, and fund the pipeline of new treatments, would help to realise the goals of Sláintecare which, according to the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, should be “accelerated”. IPHA believes the timely availability of innovative new medicines can help build the “world-class” health service envisaged by Sláintecare. Medicines should be treated as an investment rather than as a cost, according to IPHA, with knock-on benefits for the economy and the public finances by increasing workforce productivity and reducing hospitalisations.
For cancer patients, these medicines would have a key role in placing Ireland in the top quartile of European countries for cancer survival by 2026 – a goal of the National Cancer Strategy.
Oliver O’Connor, Chief Executive of IPHA, said next week’s Budget is an opportunity for the Government to signal that it backs the adoption of innovation by providing funding for new medicines.
“Joint funding is our proposal. The State and the industry would come together to fund new medicines. It is the fairest way to ensure that patients in Ireland have access to the latest breakthrough treatments, just like many of their peers in western Europe. That we are excellent at making medicines but poor at adopting them in the health services amounts to an ‘innovation paradox’. Clinically and reputationally, this is not good for Ireland. The Government should move to clear the backlog – and, in the Budget, provide new funding for new medicines in the pipeline. That would enable the industry to substantially contribute to the cost of new medicines, too.”
IPHA has proposed joint industry-State funding for new innovative medicines in a new Agreement to succeed the extended one that expires at the end of January. COVID-19 has delayed the start of formal discussions on a new Agreement. The proposed joint funding model recognises that both industry and the State share a responsibility to give patients the best treatment options.
A recent survey by analysts IQVIA for EFPIA, the originator biopharmaceutical industry’s representative organisation in Europe, shows Irish patients are waiting 521 days before their doctors can prescribe the latest reimbursed treatments for often serious medical conditions.
The EFPIA Patient WAIT Indicator survey examined 172 medicines licensed for prescription to patients by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) between 1st January, 2015 to the 31st December, 2018.
It shows that Ireland ranks 19th out of 34 European countries for speed of access to some new medicines. Among western European countries, we are among the slowest adopters of new medicines. Ireland’s score places us close to Latvia and Croatia whose wait times are 517 days and 512 days, respectively.
The wait times for ‘basket’ or ‘reference’ countries are Germany (127 days), Denmark (154 days), Netherlands (252 days), Sweden (269 days), Finland (298 days), Austria (307 days), England (349 days), Spain (414 days), Scotland (425), Greece (436 days), Italy (436 days), Belgium (439 days), Ireland (521 days) and Portugal (711 days).