Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 11 November 2020
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health
Business of Joint Committee
We will begin with the draft minutes, correspondence and the draft work programme. Following our private meeting yesterday afternoon, I asked the committee to confirm that the minutes of the meeting of 4 November, the actions relating to items of correspondence, the additions to the work programme and the establishment and work programme of the new subcommittee on mental health were agreed. Are these matters agreed? Agreed.
The minutes of our meeting yesterday will record details of the four EU proposals which it was agreed do not require further scrutiny. Is that agreed? Agreed. Do members wish to raise any other matters?
I would like to again raise an issue I raised yesterday. I propose that the committee be given a briefing on the issue of vaccines. Two issues arise. One is the matter of vaccines for Covid. We will receive part of whatever number of vaccines the European Commission procures but it is important the committee is briefed on how that is going to work and how many doses we expect to get this year, if any, and next year. I would like a briefing on that.
We might put some questions to the HSE today with regard to my second point, which is that there have been some concerns and issues with regard to the flu vaccine. I do not believe for a second that any doses of any vaccines are missing. That is not the case. There is a difference between the number distributed and the number administered. There is concern as to who is getting these doses and whether the vulnerable are being protected. We need to get a handle on that. The problem with these meetings is that members only have ten minutes in which to raise many issues. We cannot raise everything when either the Minister or the HSE is before us. It would be worthwhile for the committee to hold a session on the issue of vaccines which would include the Covid vaccines, the flu vaccine and the pneumonia vaccine, of which there appears to be a shortage.
The uptake of the flu vaccine this year has been unreal. It is massive and well above what it was last year. While there has been a 20% increase in the number of doses, there is still not enough to satisfy the demand. For that reason, it would be worthwhile for us to have such a briefing. I imagine Dr. Colm Henry would be involved, as would the relevant officials involved in the procurement side. It would be worthwhile to arrange such a meeting as soon as possible. We said that such an event would be a separate session and a briefing rather than a full meeting.
I would like to raise an issue. The Covid vaccine will be new and €50 million is to be set aside for new drugs approved under the drugs refund scheme. We need clarification that this €50 million will not be swallowed up by the Covid vaccine.
My other issue in respect of new drugs coming on stream and being approved under the drugs refund scheme is that we are now 19th in Europe with regard to the length of time between drugs becoming available generally and being made available in Ireland. We need to take a look at that issue.
On that same issue of new and orphan drugs and the time taken to progress through the testing process, the double test, comprising the European test and the Irish test, is time-consuming. The second test should be unnecessary if we are equal within the European Union. New drugs are available for which reimbursement is not authorised because they have not been approved. Even when they are approved, reimbursement is a long and drawn-out process. It is time that was brought up to date. As a result of our peripheral position within the European Union, we need to be on the ball.
We need a bit of balance. If we are going to have a session on that, we need to discuss pricing. Very often, drugs cannot be approved in this country because of the exorbitant prices that are allowed to be charged here. There is an opportunity cost involved. If one wants to approve €5 million for a given drug, €5 million is taken from other health services. If we are to hold such a session, we must invite Dr. Barry. I assume he still works in quality assessment. We must ensure balance in that regard.