The Department of Health has told the Health Service Executive it believes the executive has money to fund new drugs this year, despite HSE claims that it cannot do so within its current budget.

Nine new drugs, which have been found to be clinically effective and cost effective and which the HSE wants to provide, are still on hold for public patients, in what appear to be major divisions between the HSE and the department.

The drugs include new treatments for cancer, depression and heart conditions.

The HSE wrote to the department saying the five-year cost of funding the nine drugs would be around €120 million and it effectively was seeking Government support for extra funding to do this.

In correspondence with the HSE, the department has told the executive that the final decision in relation to providing medicines remains the statutory responsibility of the HSE.

It has also informed the executive that it believes the HSE has funds to provide the drugs this year due to underspending - including in the Primary Care Reimbursement Scheme.

The long-term funding of the drugs into 2018 and over future years is not addressed.

Minister for Health Simon Harris is "not in a position to seek supplementary Exchequer funding" for any cost which may arise this year as a result of HSE decisions to support new medicines, according to Department of Health correspondence with the HSE, seen by RTÉ News.

The department has said it believes the HSE has scope to fund these medicines this year.

Discussions are continuing between the department and the HSE and the Minister for Health has asked the parties to intensify their efforts to resolve the matter.

The nine drugs are:

  • Erivedge for basal cell carcinoma
  • Brintellix for depression
  • Entresto for heart failure
  • Lynparza for ovarian cancer
  • Gazyvaro for follicular lymphoma
  • Entyvio for Crohn's and ulcerative colitis
  • Opdivo for renal cell carcinoma
  • Opdivo for Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Otezla for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis

Labour Party health spokesperson Alan Kelly said life-saving drugs were caught in delays for 12 months.

He said the HSE took ten months to refer the life-saving heart failure drug, Entresto, to the Department of Health and the department took two months to refer it back to the HSE.

Mr Kelly said patients were suffering while the HSE and the department play "pass the parcel".

The Irish Patients Association added that it wants assurances from Government  that no public patients lives are being put at risk because of these delays.

Director of the IPA Stephen McMahon said that the process of access to new medicines is not functioning well.

Meanwhile, the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association has said that it has provided savings of €140m to the Government under a new deal and this money should be available for new medicines

IPHA chief executive Oliver O'Connor said that the health service budget was also underspent by €21m.

He said that there is no reason why this €21m should not be spent on new medicines and correspondence between the Department of Health and HSE has revealed the department is also of this view.

Mr O'Connor said that a year ago, IPHA member companies made a deal with the Government under which drug prices were cut and they also gave cash rebates to the State worth €140m which should be used for new medicines.

In a statement, the HSE says it has been asked to fund these nine drugs in 2017 from within its available existing resources.

It says the critical challenge for it is not necessarily the remainder of 2017 but the funding required for the full 12 months of next year and beyond.

The HSE says the average cost for these nine drugs each year for the next two years is €12m, with a net accumulative cost over five years coming to €117m.

In this regard, the HSE has sought clarity on funding arrangements for these drugs for 2018 and beyond

It says this clarity is important, to ensure that any decision to fund these new drugs will not adversely affect existing services provided to patients.