FIANNA Fáil leader Micheál Martin has labelled the decision to restrict access to Versatis pain relief patches a “cost-cutting measure” and did not accept that it was due to unlicensed prescribing.
More than 25,000 people have been affected after the HSE restricted access to the patches with patients now having to appeal through their GPs.
Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Deputy Martin called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health, Simon Harris to intervene and suspend the HSE decision to restrict access to the patches, so due diligence can be carried out.
Up to 90% of requests for the patches from GPs have been rejected since new qualifying rules were brought in last September.
“The sudden overnight nature of this decision was appalling and visited untold trauma on people,” said Mr Martin.
“This was about cutting costs, Taoiseach, but it has caused great trauma on many families and thousands of people overnight. It wasn’t about people’s safety,” he added.
“The Government has by this measure reduced the cost by 90% by reducing the number of patches out there by 90%, essentially taking 90% of patients away from a vital medicine that was essential to their daily lives.
“The individual testimonies are heartrending,” he added, citing Cork woman Catherine Carroll who spoke to the Evening Echo, describing her situation as a “living hell.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar responded saying that doctors prescribing the medicine for unlicensed uses had caused Ireland’s dependence on the patch to reach 10 times that of the UK.
“These are patches that are licensed for one purpose only in Ireland and that is post-Shingle pain,” he said.
“Over the course of the last number of years, a number of doctors, quite a lot of doctors, unfortunately, have been prescribing it for off license use.
“These are legitimate practices in certain circumstances but you do need certain controls around that because people can become dependent on medicine such as this,” he added.
“It is an anaesthetic and anaesthetic is not something you prescribe lightly, it can have consequences.
“It is not simply a matter of money, it is a matter of patient safety,” he added.
“I don’t accept that,” retorted Deputy Martin. “It’s a cost-cutting measure by any yardstick.”