An early access programme to new anti-viral drugs for around 120 people with Hepatitis C, who have advanced liver disease, is to be introduced by the HSE.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the programme will apply to patients deemed to have an urgent need for treatment and for whom previously licensed drug treatments would not work.

It follows negotiations with a number of drug companies.

The HSE has reached agreement with Gilead Sciences on the pricing of Sovaldi and other drugs made by the firm.

It has also reached interim agreements with Janssen and Bristol-Myers Squibb in relation to two other drugs, Olysio and Daklinza.

Mr Varadkar said the aim is to provide access for as many patients as possible.

The early access programme is being put in place pending the completion of a series of pricing and reimbursement assessments for a number of anti-viral drugs and combinations of drugs.

These assessments are expected to be completed over the next few months.

The Department of Health has also set up an advisory group to consider a multi-annual approach to the clinical and public health management of Hepatitis C.

It will report to the minister in the coming weeks and make recommendations about extending access to these new drugs to a further group of patients.