Clinical Director raises 'equity' issue as cancer drug is made available to VHI customers only

By Breda Graham
Digital Journalist

The Clinical Director of the National Centre for Pharma-economics has said that VHI's decision to make some cancer drugs available to some private customers raises an issue of equity.

Speaking on Today with Sean O'Rourke, Professor Michael Barry said that the drugs which have been given the go-ahead by VHI are currently "going through the process" of approval.

"I think the main problem it raises, of course, is the issue of equity," he said.

He said that there is a "differential where public patients may not be able to access therapies and private patients can".

He said the centre concluded its assessment of the breast cancer drug, prejeta, in January and concluded that while there was value in the drug which costs €61,000 per patient per year, the price was too high.

The centre recommended that the HSE enter negotiations with the drug manufacturer.

"That's the usual process where if we do find a drug isn't value for money then the HSE negotiates a better price.

"You have a differential pricing of drugs. Will there be a VHI price and will there be a public HSE price? But, of course, we never know that because there's no transparency in pricing anyway.

Listen to the interview in full here:

Professor Barry said the centre has a good record of making drugs available and the system that is in place ensures equity.

"I think the system we have in place at the moment I think, whatever people may feel about it, the one thing it does to ensures equity.

If we were to replicate the VHI's decision today, if we were to replicate that it would cost over one hundred million euro over the next five years, that shows you what the implications are of this decision.

He said that he does not know if the VHI is paying the price for the drugs that he considers too high as they would be "confidential negotiations".

"We can't see whether the VHI has agreed to pay a price premium, a higher price for these drugs."

He said that the reason that patients are crying out for these drugs and wondering why it is taking so long for them to become available is down to a funding issue.

"We actually don't have an assessment problem, we have a funding problem.

The assessment of these drugs will be completed by and large in under six months which is pretty good.

"The availability of the drugs, however, may take much longer and that's down to funding and it's down to budget impact on these drugs."

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