Returning to my previous point, I acknowledge that there have been amazing advances in treatments for cancer and that cancer is not the death sentence it once was. Everybody here has family or friends who have experienced cancer. We know the range of treatments. If plan A does not work, there can be a plan B and a plan C. However, it is not easy dealing with cancer. We know about the side effects, which are particularly difficult for some cancer patients. We know that some of the drugs people are on are toxic and if people are on them for a particularly long time, some of them will experience pretty dire side effects. It is a balancing act between the drugs that are dealing with the cancer and what those drugs are doing to the person's body.
I can understand why those diagnosed with cancer will turn to alternatives alongside or perhaps instead of conventional treatments. We know there are other treatments that are very positive. They include aromatherapy, reflexology, acupuncture, tai chi, mindfulness, yoga and meditation. I think we can all agree that mental attitude is very important when we are coping with an illness. All of these alternative treatments are very helpful for many people in conjunction with but also instead of conventional treatments if that is the decision they make.
With regard to the explanatory memorandum, the Bill has a narrow remit, which is to ensure that patients are not given false hope through advertisements for treatments that have no scientific credence. However, even with regard to treatments that have scientific credence, science is not perfect. Hope can be relative and I would not like to destroy anybody's hope by telling people they cannot do this or that. While we need a deterrent for unscrupulous businesses advertising treatments that are taking advantage of cancer sufferers, the big pharmaceutical companies are also taking advantage of cancer patients by charging extortionate prices for drugs. During Leaders' Questions yesterday, I raised the issue of how our publicly funded universities and research institutes do the work to create these drugs and then sell the patent to pharmaceutical companies. The universities and research institutes need more capacity building and support to enable them to include conditionality with the patent and ensure the drugs in question are accessible and affordable. I gave the example yesterday of a new drug for cancer developed by the University of Pennsylvania at a cost of $150,000. Novartis is now selling it for $475,000. There are many similar examples of this practice. The research and development is publicly funded but after that, there is a gap and pharmaceutical companies can do what they like. We know they are driven by their shareholders' profit.
The other difficulty cancer patients face is delays in accessing medicines. We know that there is a median 623-day wait between the licensing of new oncology medicines by the European Medicines Agency and the date on which they are made available in Ireland. Within the European Union, only Portugal, Lithuania and Estonia experience longer delays. A total of 42% of new oncology medicines licensed by the European Medicines Agency between 2015 and 2017 were available in Ireland in 2018 compared with 68% in Belgium, 94% in Austria and the Netherlands and 97% in Germany and the UK. I know from the Taoiseach's reply yesterday that Ireland is involved in the BeNeLuxA initiative, which involves collective bargaining and that is really good. In 2016, the European Council under the Dutch Presidency made some very strong recommendations. If it could be on the Irish agenda to push that to get the momentum going, implementation in place and a co-ordinating mechanism, that would be very helpful.
Returning to the Bill, I was contacted, as were others, by the Irish Association of Master Medical Herbalists. The association is concerned that the Bill could have unforeseen and unintended consequences, particularly for the complementary and alternative medicines sectors and therapists. It is of the view that the application of the proposed legislation, as it is currently constituted, could be used to clamp down on these practitioners or, under the most extreme interpretation, prohibit them from practising. We must respect those who, for many reasons, take the decision not to use drugs and ensure they are supported in what they have decided to do. The Bill needs to strike a balance by enabling people to try the alternative route while ensuring they are not taken advantage of by those who are out to make money under false pretences.
We have spoken about cancer and I acknowledge the work of oncologists, particularly oncology nurses. We need trained oncology nurses to be involved with patients so that we do not rely on nurses in training.
It is difficult to discuss this Bill with its narrow remit without looking at the wider aspects of cancer treatment such as the availability, affordability and accessibility of drugs. We must also take into account people's views and beliefs, which must be respected. We know that mental attitude is very important so if I, as a person with cancer, believe that "A" is the road for me, that must be respected, while keeping in mind the need for balance. Advertising claims of health benefits without proof are very damaging, particularly if they impact on people's already fragile health.