PAYMENTS by the HSE to the big pharmaceutical groups for medicines dispensed by community pharmacists rose by over €50m last year to €1.15bn despite cost-saving agreements designed to limit the state's drugs bill.
The internal HSE figures, seen by this newspaper, include all payments made under the medical card scheme and the drugs payment scheme, but exclude the cost of drugs dispensed in hospitals.
The figures show that several major companies saw significant rises in their earnings from the HSE in 2008, despite government cutbacks elsewhere.
Drug importer PCO Manufacturing saw its payments more than double to €28m while French multinational Sanofi-Avenis' receipts grew by over 18% to €77.8m.
But generic drug companies continued to be frozen out of the schemes by prescribing restrictions contained in the HSE's agreement with the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), which represents multinational pharmaceutical firms.
Generic manufacturers produce cheaper but identical versions of drugs which have lost their patent protection.
Multinational giant Pfizer continued to be the largest recipient of payments from the HSE, receiving over €185m – almost 16% of the organisation's total spend on medicines for its community drugs schemes. A sizeable proportion of this was spent on Pfizer's two best-known drugs, Lipitor and Viagra, both of which are produced in Cork. The only other company to earn more than €100m from the schemes in 2008 was Astrazeneca.