Clinical advice must be followed and policy on the provision of the Versatis pain relief patch should be "decided by doctors rather than radio shows", the Minister for Health has told the Dáil.

Simon Harris was replying to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who raised the issue of the decision by the Health Service Executive to withdraw the pain relief patch Versatis from the the Drug Payment Scheme.

He asked when the Government plans to set up the planned Independent Patient Advocacy Service as the "only independent patient advocacy service in the country is Liveline, courtesy of broadcaster Joe Duffy.

He added: "There has been an extraordinary level of contact over the last number of weeks from patients across the country. In relation to the removal of Versatis pain relief patches and medication from thousands of patients across the country in a cost cutting measure by the government."

Citing a parliamentary question reply, he pointed out that "it is estimated that there will be 90% savings in the execution of this measure.

"But from a patients' perspective, anybody listening to Liveline over the last number of weeks will have been struck by the agony, the genuine distress caused to patients and their families across the country."

He asked, "Where was the patient advocacy informing this particular decision?"

Mr Harris, replied, that, "It wasn't a decision taken by the Government. It was a decision taken by the Medicines Management Programme, which is made up of clinicians. It was a clinical decision made in relation to the appropriate use of Versatis, a patch that had been used for conditions that it wasn't meant to be previously use for." 

"We were actually spending more and using more in this country than the entire UK.

"But I think that the point that the deputy makes about compassion for people that it was providing pain relief to."

The minister concluded:"I would make the point that there is an appeals process. Already GPs can apply on an online system to have the application assessed and turned around within two days and hundreds of people have been put back on it as a result."

He stressed the importance of following clinical advice and "we let our policy in relation to this be decided by doctors rather than radio shows."

The issue has already been raised at the Oireachtas Health Committee on 7 February. HSE Director General Tony O'Brien explained that since last September there had been a second level of approval introduced for GPs who wish to continue prescribing the drug after three months.