Speaking in the Dáil on the Bill to allow wider use of generic medicines and to reduce the State’s drugs bill, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD called for greater transparency on the deal between the Irish Pharmaceutical Health Association, the Department of Health and the HSE announced by Health Minister James Reilly on Monday.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
“Generic substitution and reference pricing have been talked about for a very long time but no action was taken by previous Governments. This is something Sinn Féin has advocated for many years.
“In welcoming the Bill I also welcome the agreement between the Department of Health, the HSE and the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association and announced on Monday by the Minister for Health- in so far as it goes, that is. Exactly how far it goes we are not sure because we do not have the detail.
“The deal is projected to save in excess of €400 million over the next three years, beginning with €16 million to the end of this year and €116 million next year. We should be given a breakdown of how these figures have been arrived at. More detail of the agreement should be made available. The Minister himself predicted far greater savings this year. What has happened? Has the pharmaceutical industry successfully used its muscle yet again?
“Former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, expressed frustration at lack of progress on the reduction of medicine costs. I hope the Deputy speaks in this debate and sets out her experience and her concerns at more length and with the freedom of one who is no longer in office in this Coalition. That may shed some light on how the agreement was handled.
“The HSE spent an estimated €1.9 billion in 2010, the last full year for which we have figures, on medicines and non-drug items supplied to patients under the GMS and community drug schemes. This included approximately €384m paid to community pharmacy contractors in respect of dispensing fees and retail mark-ups. The expenditure more than tripled between the years 2000 and 2010.
“For years we in Sinn Féin and others have been calling for greater use of generic drugs and for control of profiteering by pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. Successive Ministers for Health & Children from 1997 failed to act.
“A survey in the Sunday Business Post last August showed that the HSE and patients here are paying up to 12 times more than the NHS for the same generic drugs. Patients and taxpayers are quite simply being ripped off by the pharmaceutical industry and this is facilitated by the Government's agreement with that industry. For the industry to claim, as it did, that the massive price differential is accounted for by specific packaging required for this State was an insult to people's intelligence.
“I have repeatedly raised with Health Minister James Reilly the need for action to require greater use of generic drugs and to address drug prices overall. The survey showed the situation was even worse than suspected and that it was long past time for the profiteering of the pharmaceutical industry to be confronted once and for all.
“This Bill focuses on generic substitution and reference pricing. It is a necessary measure, if just one of a range of measures that need to be undertaken.” ENDS