Minister for Health Simon Harris has signed an international agreement aimed at securing affordable and timely access to new medicines for Irish patients.

Under the agreement - known as the Beneluxa Initiative - Ireland joins in the existing pharmaceutical initiative involving Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Minister Harris signed the agreement at the EPSCO Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg.

The agreement will provide Ireland with opportunities to share information and expertise on medicines, increase transparency on pricing between the countries involved and improve the payers' position in the market through joint negotiations.

Speaking on RTÉ's News At One, Mr Harris outlined what the agreement would mean for patients here.

He said Ireland as a country of around five million people was now joining an alliance of over 50 million people, and that signing the agreement provides the country with more leverage and more information.

He said that before signing the agreement, Ireland was not privy to any information with regard to any savings enjoyed by the countries involved in relation to pricing of certain medication.

The minister added that Ireland would see potentially significant savings from the deal but would continue to spend more and more on medicines.

"The whole point of becoming a formal member is that we get access that up until now would have been confidential.

"We’ll be sharing information about pricing, about engagement, and about what new drugs are coming down the tracks, and what health technology assessments are under way," he said.

He said Ireland would be able to secure more medication and innovative drugs in a more timely fashion.

He added that in previous cases, engagement in securing certain medicines has been very prolonged, and that becoming involved in this initiative would streamline this process.

He said the deal would "dramatically assist" in decreasing delays that patients face in gaining access to medicines.

He said there will still be challenges ahead but that becoming part of the initiative would greatly strengthen Ireland's hand to respond to those challenges.