The Taoiseach has today defended the HSE’s decision to remove Versatis patches from the medical card and drug payment schemes.
During Leaders’ Questions this afternoon, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin highlighted that the restriction of the patch, which can help sufferers of chronic pain, has devastated 25,000 people across the country.
90% of patients who were prescribed the Versatis patch in 2017 have faced restrictions imposed by the HSE, which came into effect last November and December.
The Taoiseach says that Versatis patches should only be prescribed for post-shingles pain, and if not doctors should have to go through “some sort of procedure.”
“This is a medicine, these are patches that are licensed for one purpose only in Ireland and that is post-shingles pain in adults. Unfortunately over the course of the last number of years, a number of doctors, quite a lot of doctors unfortunately, have been prescribing it for an off-licence use… uses for which it is not licenced,” Varadkar said.
“You need some form of control around that as people can become dependent on medicines such as this, it is an anaesthetic, it’s not something that you prescribe lightly. And long-term use of anaesthetics can have consequences for people.”
“It’s not simply a matter Deputy [Martin] of money, it is a matter of patient safety as well,” the Taoiseach said.
Varadkar says that the patches are prescribed ten times more in Ireland than they are in the UK, and asserts that there is something “seriously wrong” with this statistic.
“I think it was the right thing to do from a patient safety point of view, to make sure that if GPs and other doctors are prescribing this medicine for a purpose for which it is not licensed there should be some sort of controls around that and that is what the HSE has done.”
Addressing the Taoiseach in the Dáil, Deputy Martin said: “This was about cutting costs Taoiseach but it has visited great trauma on many families and on thousands of people across the country overnight.”
Micheal Martin says that he does not accept Varadkar’s explanation for the imposed restrictions and has asked for the Taoiseach and Minister for Health to suspend the decision.
“The sudden overnight nature of this decision is appalling and visited untold trauma on people.”
“Give people back their lives,” Deputy Martin appealed.
Varadkar added that a “process” is currently in place that allows patients to apply for use of the patches.
Initial applications are processed in three working days, and for appeals the average waiting time is five working days.
The Taoiseach says that as of last Friday, 1,500 post-shingles patients have been approved to use the patches. Another 4,784 patients were registered by their GP for uses other than post-shingles pain, and 14% (670) of these have been approved.
A campaign has been established to protest against the restriction of the Versatis patches.
The Patch Us Back Up campaign’s Facebook group has over 2,750 members. The group was set up by five women who suffer from chronic pain and were affected by the removal of Versatis patches from all schemes.
They are hoping to make waves on the 1st of March by asking as many people as possible to send thank you cards or letters, along with emails and tweets, to Health Minister Simon Harris and Professor Michael Barry. If possible, they would like people to include a wooden spoon and a band-aid, and to include the terms “dire straits” and “patch us back up.”
The group are also asking people to get in touch with their local TDs and councillors to further raise the issue.
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