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Cyprus Health

Health minister fights back over drug rules

Health Minister Giorgos Pamborides was on Tuesday accused of changing the patient drug approval procedure because an application of a friend to a high ranking government official was rejected.

He was slammed on state radio by former Health Minister Stavros Malas, who held the position during AKEL’s presidency.

Behind the row was reports earlier this week that patients suffering from rare diseases face tremendous difficulty in accessing free medicine from state hospital pharmacies and have to wait for individual decisions before getting access to prescribed drugs.

Not only is the procedure to get the drugs prescribed to them timely and often leads nowhere, the cost of the drugs from private pharmacies is often extremely costly.

Pamborides was also held responsible for about €5.5 million – designated for drug purchases – which were left unused.

Conceding this was an existing issue, Pamborides said the problem stemmed from people within the public service who were bitter because they had been stripped of their powers to approve drug applications.

On Tuesday Malas said “in September, because one drug for a friendly person of a high ranking state official was not approved, it was decided a second committee should be set up” to evaluate off label drugs.

The decision, according to the former minister, was taken by Cabinet following instigations by Pamborides.

If the drug in a patient’s application was for label use – as the package indicated – it was a simple procedure evaluated by the pharmaceutical committee.

If the drug however was off label – meaning used for something other than the label indicated – then it was evaluated by the pharmaceutical services and then the minister had the sole responsibility of approving or rejecting the application, auditor general Odysseas Michaelides said.

Cabinet’s decision however, moved the responsibility to the ministry via a two tier committee as the initial one offered no transparency and concentrated too much power in the minister’s hands.

This caused mass confusion as to who was responsible for what and as a result, patients are left waiting for way too long, Malas said.

Upon hearing the accusations, Pamborides phoned in live asking his predecessor to take back what he said.

He added the decisions he took were after the recommendation of the auditor general and sought to clarify what the move actually entailed.

“Before opening your mouth to say these things, research your information,” a fuming Pamborides told Malas.

“There was a specific person… who was close to dying because there was a stubbornness on the part of some people to refuse to approve the drug which would grant him life,” Michaelides said.

Adding he did not know if this was the same case Malas was referring to, he said it had been widely spoken about.

The move to change the procedure aimed to make processes more transparent.

Head of the association of affected persons and friends, Marios Kouloumas said the procedures are still time consuming and take four to six months yet they still, in most cases, end with rejections.

Pamborides publically called on the state to help resolve the infighting from within the committee and the ministry as he cannot offer magic solutions to people playing games within the public service.

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