Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs has questioned why the Health Minister has not taken up a UK wide scheme which offers free access to an increased range of medicines for cancer and other diseases. The East Antrim MLA was speaking after directly challenging the Minister on why he had failed to take full advantage of the UK wide agreement with the pharmaceutical sector.
Roy Beggs MLA said;
“Two weeks ago the Minister made an expediently timed statement that reintroducing prescription charges would be able to pay for an array of new cancer drugs. At the time he was coming under increasing pressure because cancer patients in Northern Ireland do not have anywhere near the same access to drugs as those in England. My Party has been saying for some time that this postcode lottery needed to be brought to an end and that a dedicated drugs fund was the way to do it.
“The Minister was wrong to link to the two issues. He knew however by doing it he would divert some of the attention away from himself. Uncomfortably for the Minister, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has now come forward and revealed that he has failed point blankly to acknowledge that with the new UK wide scheme, that industry could be meeting the cost of many of the new drugs themselves.
Under the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS), the industry agreed to cover the entire cost of growth in the UK medicines bill arising from increased use of branded medicines for 2 years from Jan 2014 until Dec 2015. From Jan 2016 until Dec 2019, the industry would also cover all but 1.8%-1.9% of increased cost to the NHS arising from increased use of branded medicines.
Roy Beggs MLA said, “The UK wide PPRS agreement includes any increased use by NHS clinicians of innovative medicines launched before December 2013 and so would give access to many new cancer drugs at little or no cost.
By replacing the restrictive Individual Funding Request (IFR) scheme the current inequality faced by cancer patients in Northern Ireland could be removed. The question has to be asked – why has Edwin Poots been so slow at shifting to benefit patients. By adopting either the English Cancer Drugs Scheme or following the new Scottish Peer Approved Clinical System, wider access would be given to many new specialist drugs and enhance the lives of many. Is it because he is directing all available resources to fill an increasingly black hole in his budget which his Party approved in 2011, or is it because he has simply ignored the issue? Either way it is a deeply deplorable situation.”