Research-based drugmakers in Ireland cut the prices of almost 300 of their most widely-prescribed medicines by 40% yesterday, in a move aimed at saving the state 94 million euros over the next full year.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) said it had agreed the price cuts after being approached by Mary Harney, the Minister for Health and Children, with a request to create immediate savings on the state bill for medicines. As a result of the 40% reductions, the patented drugs on the list are now cheaper than their generic versions, and customers should save 3-4 euros each time their prescription is dispensed - potentially as much as 500 euros a year, said the Association, which has set up a website, www.checkthelist.ie, for consumers to check which products are now cheaper. They can also call 1890 876 700 for this information.

IPHA members have also agreed to pay an increased rebate to Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) in respect of the manufacturer price of all other medicines dispensed under the nation’s Community Drug Schemes, the Association added.

However, pharmacists are under no obligation to pass on the new lower prices to consumers, and the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU), which represents community pharmacists, has pointed out that pharmacists had not been permitted to start purchasing medicines at the new lower prices in advance of the reductions.

“This means that the medicines, which pharmacists stock on their shelves for patients on behalf of the HSE, will now be paid for by the HSE at the new lower rates, despite having been purchased by pharmacists at the high prices which were previously agreed between the HSE and the drug companies,” said IPU president Liz Hoctor, who described this “discrepancy” as “yet another severe financial blow for pharmacists.”

The price cuts may also hit the thriving border trade built up by pharmacists in Northern Ireland, who have been permitted to fill prescriptions for residents of the Republic who pay for their prescriptions since changes in European Union (EU) regulations took effect in November 2008.

Ms Harney has yet to secure a similar price-cutting undertaking from generics makers, which are represented by the Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers in Ireland (APMI). The Minister said she was disappointed that APMI members have “declined to offer any reductions,” but warned them that it is her “firm intention to obtain savings from APMI of at least an equivalent level to those secured from IPHA,” totaling a further 27 million euros in a full year.

The Irish government’s current pricing agreement with the APMI runs out on September 1, while a new deal with makers of branded medicines is due to take effect in March 2012.

- Ms Harney has also confirmed that Ireland’s controversial new 50-cent prescription charge, to be imposed on each prescription item dispensed to the Republic’s 1.4 million medical card-holders under the Community Drugs Schemes, is expected to be introduced on April 1. Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen has defended the new charge, saying it will generate savings of some 30 million euros a year. Ireland’s drugs bill is forecast to reach 3 billion euros for 2010.