In the second phase of its Preferred Drugs Initiative, Ireland’s Health Service Executive has announced a preferred drug in each of the angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor and angiotensin II receptor blocker drug groups.

The preferred ACE inhibitor is ramipril, and the preferred ARB is candesartan, selected from the 10 licensed ACE inhibitors and the eight ARBs now available in Ireland.

The HSE says it is asking prescribers to prescribe these drugs in order to save money, both for patients who pay for their medications and to deliver savings in the region of 4 million euros for the taxpayer.

The agency points out that Ireland currently spends more than 40 million euros a year on ACE inhibitors and ARBs under the Primary Care Scheme, with ARBs accounting for 25 million euros of this total.

Also, in 2012 the HSE drugs budget exceeded 1.7 billion euros under the Community Drugs Schemes, representing a more than fivefold increase over the last decade, it adds.

The HSE’s Medicines Management Programme  is aiming to secure savings totalling 20 billion euros this year. Since the announcement of the first “preferred” drugs earlier this year, for proton pump inhibitors – lansoprazole – and statins – simvastatin – there has already been “an encouraging shift” in prescribing patterns towards these preferred drugs, commented the MMP’s national clinical lead, Professor Michael Barry.

Also, earlier this week, Irish Health Minister James Reilly announced that all suppliers of atorvastatin products have been notified of government plans to set a reference price for these products at 70% below the current price.

“The intention is that this will be implemented by November, with the aim of achieving substantial savings for patients and the taxpayer,” said the Minister, opening the International Pharmaceutical Federation International Congress of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the National Convention Centre in Dublin.

The aim is, by mid-2014, to determine the interchangeability of the 20 most expensive medicines so that reference prices can also be set for them, Dr Reilly added.

“This is crucial in securing the future sustainability of our health system,” he told the Congress. “Paying a premium price for medicines is never acceptable, especially in the current financial environment. Reducing pharmaceutical prices is an issue that the Irish government has been addressing through a series of reforms in recent years, and we will continue to address it,” he said.