Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Drugs Cost.


asked the Minister for Health if he will establish a national drugs formulary with a view to rationalising the area of drugs prescription in view of the huge cost of drugs to the State and of the large profits made by many drugs companies.

Negotiations are currently taking place between the Federation of Irish Chemical Industries and my Department with a view to formulating a new agreement which would provide for a significant reduction in current drug costs. The question of the possible role of a national formulary will be examined in the light of the outcome of these negotiations.

My information is that at present there are about 15,000 prescribable items and drugs available. The World Health Organisation said there are only 300 basic items which need to be available——

A question please.

Would the Minister not consider that a drugs formulary listing the necessary drugs a doctor may prescribe would be a cost-saving move?

I am concerned, as are other Deputies, that under the GMS we spent £48.5 million on drugs last year, excluding fees, and £25 million in the hospital area, the total being £73.5 million. I am convinced that we can substantially reduce that cost figure. There may well be considerable merit in persuasive formularies such as the British national system. That would be in line with efforts made by the GMS payments board to encourage doctors to prescribe more economically. We are at the moment examining that situation, but this is a very complex area. I am also examining it in the context of the elimination of non-prescription items and the recent decision of the former Government which, to an extent, is a formulary of sorts, limiting drugs available for prescription. I am very anxious to see the extension of hospital drug committees at all levels. They could produce formularies for their own hospitals, substantially reducing drug costs. There is no doubt that the Departments of Health and of Finance will be taking an exceptionally rigorous view of the cost of drugs for the 1984 Estimates.

Would the Minister agree that there is a formulary which has been tested in the Eastern Health Board area and gives the basis for the kind of development about which he is speaking? Also, many hospitals have recently established drug committees which have been very effective in bringing down the cost. Would he agree that the line he has indicated would be a sensible one to pursue, to bring about real worthwhile saving from better management procedures?

There should be reasonable savings on the proposed new agreement with the Federation of Irish Chemical Industries. Deputy Woods is aware of the drafting of that agreement. I am convinced that there can be further savings in that area, depending on the life of that agreement. I share the Deputy's views that at hospital and health board levels — and, indeed, at voluntary hospital level — very considerable savings could be made. However, it is one thing saying, another doing it. I am also concerned to make sure that the hospitals do this.