Ireland lags European peers on speed of access to new medicines, says latest survey on wait times

  • Patients in Germany get new medicines four times faster than in Ireland
  • Ireland is 21st out of 34 countries for cancer medicines and in 24th place for orphan medicines
  • New supply Agreement and Budget funding urgently needed to improve adoption of innovation

Ireland lags most of western Europe in making innovative new medicines available to patients, according to a survey, commissioned by the originator biopharmaceutical industry, that measures speeds of access between countries.

The survey of 34 countries shows that Ireland ranks around mid-table in Europe, and near the bottom among western European countries, for the time it takes to give patients access to the latest treatments by agreeing reimbursement in the health services.

The figures, gathered by data analysts IQVIA for EFPIA, the European industry body, place Ireland in 18th place for time to availability for 152 medicines, with an average of 477 days to reimbursement.

That is some distance short of the standard set in Irish and European law of 180 days after a request for reimbursement.

Among western European countries, only France and Portugal are slower than Ireland. Other countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, England and Scotland, are faster. Germany is four times faster than Ireland to make new medicines available to patients through public reimbursement. It takes almost three times as long to make new medicines available to patients in Ireland compared to Denmark.

For cancer medicines, Ireland is in 21st place for time to availability, with an average of 606 days to reimbursement. We are in 24th place for time to availability for orphan medicines which treat rare conditions, with an average of 756 days to reimbursement.

An analysis by the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), which represents the industry locally, shows that of 13 new medicines, mostly for cancer, funded in 2020 it took over 2.7 times longer, on average, to reimburse them in Ireland compared to 14 western European countries, including the UK.

A new supply Agreement, and a Budget funding announcement, can, begin to address Ireland’s problem with introducing innovative new medicines in the health services, according to IPHA.

Oliver O’Connor, Chief Executive at IPHA, said: “This Government, especially the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, the Minister for Public Expenditure, Michael McGrath, and the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, deserve credit for providing €50 million for new medicines this year. The allocation is releasing a backlog of medicines that had gathered due to a funding freeze imposed in 2019. 

“But data shows Ireland still has a major problem with speed of access to new medicines, compared with peer countries in western Europe. It is not because all these countries’ assessment processes are somehow less stringent than ours. Our processes are not organised to deliver fast access for patients. A funding shortfall in previous years has meant medicines were left unfunded, even when they were deemed cost-effective after price negotiations. We need to fix these problems, together, through a new supply Agreement and in Budget 2022. 

“Innovative medicines have significantly improved survival, delivering treatments to patients with chronic diseases, tackling previously untreatable cancers and genetic conditions, eliminating some infectious diseases and addressing unmet medical needs. 

“In recent years, innovation in medicines has been fast. The industry’s pipeline is strong. The true value of innovation is realised when patients have access to it. So, we need to design a reimbursement process that works better and to build a funding framework that is sustainable for the health system and delivers faster access to innovation for patients. These should be urgent priorities for both industry and the State.

“Investing in medicines is investing in our futures.”

In February, the industry agreed with the State a second rollover of the existing supply Agreement. It runs until the end of July, with an option to extend it to the end of September. In the meantime, negotiations are to start on a new supply Agreement.

The campaign, #InvestInOurFutures, is now live across social media.

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