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Head of HSE drug-buying programme: 'It's difficult to defend current prices'

Michael Barry of the National Medicines Management Programme says draft laws will make generic drugs cheaper.

Image: PhotoStock10 via Shutterstock

Updated, 11:50

THE HEAD of the HSE’s new national drug purchasing programme has admitted it is “difficult” to defend the prices that Ireland is paying for generic drugs, compared to our geographical neighbours.

Prof Michael Barry was responding to a report by the Sunday Business Post which underlined that the HSE can pay up to 24 times more for generic drugs than Britain’s NHS.

Susan Mitchell’s research showed that the Irish taxpayer pays €99.89 for olanzapine – a drug to treat bipolar disorder better known as Zyprexa, manufactured by Eli Lilly – while the NHS pays just £3.54, the equivalent of €4.10.

Barry, who was appointed to lead the new management programme three months ago, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that it “isn’t right” that Ireland was paying so much more for generic drugs than Britain was.

“It’s very difficult to defend this situation,” he said, saying there had not been “an effective generic drugs market in this country for many, many years”.

He said:

The price of generic medicines should be anywhere between 50 per cent and 90 per cent below the proprietary drug price, so it’s impossible to defend this.

Barry further added that the price for generic drugs was set through negotiation, and “clearly it hasn’t been possible to negotiate with the generic manufacturers”.

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He said the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Bill 2012, which is currently making its way through the Oireachtas, would address the issue by allowing the HSE to introduce ‘reference pricing’ for drugs which it considered to be “interchangeable”.

This would give the HSE the power to negotiate more firmly with drug companies by threatening to strike a deal with the supplier of another, cheaper alternative version of a drug.

That legislation has been cleared by the Seanad and passed second stage in the Dáil in December. It is due to be debated by the Oireachtas health committee in two weeks’ time.

“With healthcare expenditure on medicines heading again to €2 billion in 2013,” Barry said, “I don’t think we have any choice but to tackle this area.”

Read: Generic meds switch for elderly could save taxpayers up to €152 million

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Gavan Reilly

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