A conference in Dublin has heard that it can take over two and a half years for the health service to conduct health technology assessments (HTAs) on new drugs and decide whether to fund them for public patients.

The inaugural Patient Access Conference was told that this is significantly longer than in neighbouring countries.

Brenda Dooley, Chief Executive at Axis Consulting, said that a full Health Service Executive HTA on average takes 2.6 years to a funding decision.

She said there was significant complexity, uncertainty and risk for new medicine development.

Luke O'Neill, a professor at the school of biochemistry and immunology at Trinity College Dublin, said there is a huge amount of research going into developing new treatments and it is a very expensive, risky business.

He said 96% of potential drugs fail to make it.

He said that particularly for people with cancers or inflammatory diseases there is a lot of hope with drug trials underway.

Figures from the HSE show that the medicines bill this year is around €3 billion and is set to rise significantly over the coming years to around €4 billion in 2027.

In 2021, the HSE approved 29 new medicines and 21 new uses for existing medicines.

Last year, the HSE said it approved 30 new medicines plus 30 new uses for existing medicines.

The extra cost is around €178 million over the first five years.

The organisation said it was committed to providing access to as many medicines as possible, in as timely a fashion as possible, from the resources available to it.