Irish patients are waiting three times as long for the same medicines as patients in other European countries, the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association has claimed.

It said that patients wait on average for 843 days for 15 new medicines to be funded by the Health Service Executive, compared with 289 days for patients in 14 reference countries in Europe.

Nine of the 15 medicines are for cancer, two are for multiple sclerosis, two are for cardiovascular disease and two are for gastrointestinal diseases.

The association is calling for a clear medicines policy, to help fix the access problem.

Aidan Lynch, IPHA President, said that the four-year agreement between Government and the IPHA on drug prices ends next July, and that its replacement must be a win-win-win for patients, the industry and for the State.

The IPHA represents the research-based pharmaceutical industry here, and is holding its annual conference today.

Before the HSE makes a decision on funding a drug, it undergoes an assessment to establish if it is effective and at the cost sought by the drug company.

Many new drugs that are deemed effective are not deemed value for money at the cost sought by the drug company.

In these cases, there may be negotiations between the State and the companies to see if an agreed price can be found to fund the medicine, given the limits on the annual drugs budget.

The HSE said it spends over €2bn a year on medicines and reimburses thousands of products on behalf of patients in Ireland.

It said its priority at all times is to provide access to effective medicines for patients, while at the same time providing value for money in terms of cost effectiveness to the health service. 

The HSE said Ireland's track record in relation to access to new drugs needs to be considered on a wider basis than just 15 or so products that are currently going through the assessment process.

It said that mew medicines are continually being added to the reimbursement list in Ireland, including 30 new drugs in 2018, and 26 new drugs so far in 2019.

These drugs include some very high profile expensive medicines for rare diseases and cancer treatments.

The HSE said it looks forward to exploring every avenue with the pharmaceutical industry to improve access to medicines, particularly evidence based measures of clinical effectiveness and pricing strategies that represent value for money.

The Clinical Director of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, Professor Michael Barry, has said that if drugs were priced realistically, then patients would have rapid access to them.

He added that drugs should also be value for money.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O’Rourke, he said that almost 100% of drugs assessed by the centre in 2019 did not meet the value for money criteria.

He also said the IPHA’s claim was a "rather simplistic statement", and that such a claim was not always the case.

He pointed to the drug orkambi as an example, saying this has been available in Ireland for a number of years but has only recently been made available in the UK.

Professor Barry said that a lot of the delay is due to the pharmaceutical companies.

He explained it takes 12 months to assess a drug but eight months of that is taken up by the pharmaceutical companies who, on average, take six months to send a dossier to the centre for assessment.