The ‘Programme for Government – Our Shared Future’, published today [Monday], is welcome in many respects but it leaves unresolved the funding crisis for new medicines, according to the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), which represents the international research-based biopharmaceutical industry.
For almost a year, there has been a deliberate decision from Government to provide no new funding to the HSE for new medicines. The HSE has asked and was refused. This has created a backlog of at least 18 new medicines still unavailable for patients, despite having met Irish clinical effectiveness and value for money tests.
“The funding of new medicines is in crisis,” said Oliver O’Connor, CEO of IPHA. “The new Programme for Government is totally silent on funding new medicines. Without a change in direction from Government, the HSE is still effectively prohibited from paying for new medicines for patients. The result is that patients in Ireland are among the last in western Europe to access new innovative treatments. That means doctors are unable to prescribe the newest and best medicines for patients with serious illnesses like cancer, stroke and heart disease. This Programme for Government leaves patients and doctors still waiting,” he added.
IPHA has said it is ready and willing to co-fund new medicines in the October Budget. “In its first Budget, the new Government must put new funding for new medicines on the table. That can be the basis for a new Agreement – a joint funding model recognising that both industry and the State share a responsibility to give patients the same treatment options as their peers in western Europe.
“With the current Agreement on pricing and supply of medicines set to expire, we are working on a co-funding model in which both industry and the State would agree to jointly fund new medicines. That’s the fairest way to ensure patients get timely access to the best medicines,” said Mr O’Connor.
IPHA said it would study closely the mandate of the “National Medicines Agency”. “The National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics already professionally evaluates new medicines and the HSE implements a Medicines Management Programme. But without new Government funding, the experience is that medicines simply back up inside the HSE. The same thing will happen in a National Medicines Agency if funding is not provided. Patients will still wait for treatment options that are available elsewhere in Europe.”
IPHA said the Government should recognise the potential of the biopharmaceutical industry, whose footprint in Ireland creates some 45,000 jobs, to enable “reform and renewal” in society.
Biopharmaceutical companies have shown how essential they are in supplying medicines to patients during COVID-19 and keeping manufacturing sites fully functional. Now, as Ireland targets economic recovery, the industry can be an engine for growth.
IPHA welcomed the promised “high-level review of the Irish economy led by the Department of the Taoiseach”, saying the biopharmaceutical industry has a “key role” in preventing and tackling “future public health challenges”. IPHA said the promised “modern eHealth and ICT infrastructure” could help in designing more effective medicines and tracking patient outcomes.
IPHA welcomed the focus on rare diseases and said the political will to reimburse medicines to treat them must be shown from Budget 2021. It welcomed the planned rollout of the flu vaccine to more people without charge and urged the promotion of childhood vaccinations.