Petition backing Community Pharmacy reaches over 120,000 signatures

The public petition to save local community pharmacy in Northern Ireland has now hit over 120k signatures. The petition officially closed on 9th July with the exact figure reaching 120,112.

The representative body for community pharmacy in Northern Ireland has said that the Department of Health can no longer ignore the sheer volume of patients and organisations now involved in the campaign.

 Gerard Greene, CEO of Community Pharmacy NI

Gerard Greene, CEO of Community Pharmacy NI

The petition which had 75,000 signatures around ten days ago has received a welcome boost as support from patients grows. The jump in over 45,000 signatures has come about due to local pharmacists encouraging a final push before sending back their completed petitions to the central co-ordinating team at the Community Pharmacy NI headquarters in Belfast. 

Community Pharmacists across Northern Ireland have taken the opportunity to engage and activate their regular patients to let them know exactly what the current crisis is about and how it could potentially impact on their healthcare provision.

The final petition push comes as the senior leadership from Community Pharmacy NI travelled to London last week to meet with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State to highlight prolonged Government underfunding, additional funding cuts made in 2017/18 and to explain why the current funding model which sees many medicines dispensed at a loss, is inappropriate.


Prior to the collapse of the NI Assembly, the last Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill, outlined a commitment to continue to develop and resource community pharmacy-based initiatives over the next 10 years. However, this is now in jeopardy due to the fact that the Department of Health is under funding the cost of providing community pharmacy services by at least £20m.

This funding shortfall has been compounded in recent months by unprecedented generic medicines shortages leaving community pharmacists and their staff with a daily struggle to find many of the medicines needed by their patients. When they do source the items required, they can find themselves paying more than ten times the usual price, all without knowing if they will be fully reimbursed.

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive, Community Pharmacy NI commented

“In the past few days we have been inundated with our members returning page after page of petition signatures. We are overwhelmed, but not entirely surprised, as this quantity of feedback clearly shows how important local pharmacy is to people.”  

“Community Pharmacists are fighting for their future existence and have been activated to capture the support that we know is out there. Patients and patient groups have told us that they are extremely worried about this situation and are very concerned that some pharmacists are being forced to make tough decisions and how that might impact on their care.”


“We are truly grateful to the many tens of thousands of people who have called in to their local pharmacy or gone online to show their support. They need us, and we need to be there for them in terms of clinical and social support, now, and in the longer term.” 

“Elected representatives, business leaders and patient representative organisations are standing with us. This huge public outpouring needs to be heard and recognised by the Department of Health. They can no longer keep their heads in the sand and hide behind the fact that there is no Assembly or Executive in place. They made the cuts in the first place and they have it within their gift to redress the funding issues and must do so urgently.”


Number of Service Users at HIV Charity Positive Life jumps 80%

Positive Life, Northern Ireland’s only dedicated HIV charity has revealed that the numbers of people with HIV accessing its services has almost doubled in just one year.

New statistics show that there was over an 80% increase (18 to 33) in the first quarter of 2017 in comparison to the first quarter in 2018.

This is an unprecedented increase for the HIV charity and comes off the back of several wide-ranging campaigns to raise awareness around sexual health, stigma and its support services.

 Positive Life CEO, Jacquie Richardson 

Positive Life CEO, Jacquie Richardson 

Positive Life support services includes Counselling, Complementary Therapies, Social Events, Family Support along with Rapid HIV Testing. In many cases, Positive Life offers the only real and meaningful contact that those living with HIV have due to the overwhelming impact of the stigma around the condition here in Northern Ireland. 

Jacquie Richardson, Chief Executive of Positive Life commented:

“The courage of those living with HIV coming to us for support is very encouraging. Our work is to raise awareness about HIV, stigma and our services and this is the ultimate measurement of the effectiveness of that activity.”

“For someone to identify themselves to us as living with HIV takes huge personal sacrifice due to the stigma that is associated with the condition in Northern Ireland. There is a significant fear for anyone sharing a HIV+ diagnosis, even to us confidentially at Positive Life, that they are committing themselves to a death sentence and a lifetime of isolation.”

“To see such a rise in new service users is really exceptional and we want to do so much more to ensure that those who haven’t yet accessed our services are not afraid and come forward and allow us to help.”

“We have focussed our safer sex message to make the most impact with those at high risk, particularly among younger people, as we really want to see a decrease in new cases here in Northern Ireland. There has been an upward trajectory of new cases for far too long. We are hopeful we will see the benefits of this next year and the years to come as results are often slow to emerge due to the nature of people affected by HIV coming forward.”

Greater service provision for those with HIV requires funding and is needed to sustain the increased numbers accessing the services at Positive Life Chief Executive Richardson added: 

“However, we are providing these services on the same budget as the lower number of service users and this will not be sustainable for too much longer.”

“Although we are seeing more and more people coming through our door, the financial resources that we have stays the same putting our ability to provide for the new cases under extreme pressure.”

New £7.3million Newry Whiskey Distillery Gets Green Light

Planning permission has been granted for a new £7.3million Whiskey Distillery, Bar, Restaurant and Visitor Centre on Monaghan Street in Newry.

The green light to proceed was given by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council at its latest planning committee yesterday.

Backed by well-known Newry businessman and entrepreneur, Michael McKeown, the historical location will see the revival of the Matt D’Arcy & Company business on the site which goes back as far as 1817.

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Not only will there be a fully restored Victorian bar, restaurant and international visitors centre, the site will be returned to its former use as a fully functioning whiskey distillery producing single malt for the premium market on the international stage. The size of the entire project site is expected to be around 14,000 square feet over several floors with the £7.3million investment spread over three years.

Around 50 hospitality jobs are set to be created alongside a Master Distiller and staff with cooperage skills to oversee the future maturation process of the whiskey that will be distilled at the Monaghan street site.

The restoration and build of the new distillery and facilities are expected to take around 18 months and, when completed, will bring forward a thriving international tourist attraction focusing on the US, Chinese, European and Australasian markets.

Andrew Cowan, Chief Executive, Matt D’Arcy & Company who has over 20 years international experience with a host of iconic Irish brands such as Jameson & the delivery of Ireland’s largest tourism initiative, The Gathering 2013, said:

“We are thrilled to have received such good news on the positive planning decision. This will now see us move to the next stage of the plans for Matt D’Arcy.”

“This is a really special development which will create jobs, fill local hotels and bring many tourists to this key attraction on the eastern corridor of Ireland, perfectly positioned between Belfast and Dublin.”

“We have already received a significant amount of interest in the plans to develop the Irish whiskey tourism offering on this part of the island which we believe will be very successful.”

“The Irish whiskey market is hugely successful and growing at a significant rate. Last year the market produced a modest 9 million cases with the 2020 target of 12 million cases looking like it will be exceeded.”

“Our ambition is to create a world class tourist offering through the restoration of the 200 year old site famous for whiskey distillation. Our ultimate aim is to produce around 9000 cases per year of single malt and to retain stocks for at least 10 years aimed at the premium market.” 

“For some years now, we have been maturing our own whiskey off site and will release a premium matured merchant Irish Whiskey in early 2019 prior to distilling at the Monaghan Street location on completion of the construction phase.” 

“Very soon we will be creating roles for a specialist Whiskey distiller, maturation experts and are also at the developmental stages to bring forward the first recognised cooperage course to train young apprentices and rekindle a dying art.”

Michael McKeown, owner and investor of Matthew D’Arcy & Company added:

“We took our time in bringing forward the plans to make sure that we got the proposal for the restoration of such a key site in Newry just right. The development of this location into a flagship international tourist attraction has been a passion of mine for some time and is an exciting investment.”

“I’m thrilled that we are now moving forward with enthusiasm and that the benefits of this great asset will be felt by the business and hospitality sectors locally and nationally.” 



A staggering 75,000 sign public petition to save Community Pharmacy

The public petition calling on the Department of Health to save the local community pharmacy network here has now reached a staggering 75,000 signatures.

The petition which is displayed in every community pharmacy in Northern Ireland, has been signed by over 70,500 patients and customers in person with 4,500 adding their support online.

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The petition was launched in reaction to the crisis in community pharmacy in Northern Ireland which is under sustained attack due to Government cuts and consistent underfunding.

Currently there is a deficit of at least £20m in funding provided to community pharmacy meaning that community pharmacists are dispensing many medicines at a loss, putting many under unacceptable financial pressures. Many have said that the current situation is putting patient safety at risk as workforce issues have increased the chances of mistakes being made.

Patients who have signed the petition are expressing worry and fear that they may not be able to get the medicines they need to manage their conditions and that the closure of their local pharmacy could have severe consequences for public health.

The petition is expected to reach over 100,000 as the groundswell of support grows and the call for action from the Department of Health sounds louder.

 Warning: Gerard Greene, CEO of Community Pharmacy NI 

Warning: Gerard Greene, CEO of Community Pharmacy NI 

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive, Community Pharmacy NI said:

“There has been a huge reaction to this petition which was only launched last month. People have been coming out in their tens of thousands to show their support.”

“There is unmistakable evidence of just how reliant many are on their local chemist. We have been inundated with calls about the level of fear of losing such as vital service by potential pharmacy closures.”

“There is a real threat that the continued under funding by the Department of Health will result in pharmacies closing. Patients and patient groups have told us that they are extremely worried about this situation and are very concerned that some pharmacists are being forced to make tough decisions and how that might impact on their care.”

“The frontline services that community pharmacists provide are under attack and the prolonged government underfunding is putting huge financial strain on many, so much so that it is impacting on the health and well-being of community pharmacists across Northern Ireland. We are now in a dire situation and one which we are not prepared to sit back and accept.”

“Our members have a responsibility to ensure that we help patients stay well and prevent illness wherever possible, but there is an unseen side to the profession that must be supported before there is any further impact.”

 “Due to this current situation we have no option but to speak out, and we must stand up and fight for our patients and demand that action be taken by the Department of Health to protect the vital patient services provided in community pharmacies.”

“We are asking that as many people as possible sign the petition at their local pharmacy or go online to and show their support

HIV Charity Chief welcomes new HIV Prevention Pilot under Health Transformation Fund

Jacquie Richardson, Chief Executive of Positive Life reacting to the news that PrEP will be made available in Northern Ireland as part of a new HIV Prevention Pilot funded by the Health Transformation Fund said: 

 Jacquie Richardson, Chief Executive, Positive Life 

Jacquie Richardson, Chief Executive, Positive Life 

“We welcome the latest news from the Department of Health that a new £450,000 HIV prevention pilot programme will be rolled out as part of the recent allocation under the Health Transformation Fund.”

“We understand that as part of that pilot project, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) will be made available in Northern Ireland for those at high risk of exposure to HIV.”

“We are encouraged that the Department has used the transformation fund to target the growing concern that HIV has become in Northern Ireland. We also welcome the fact that this is not simply PrEP on demand, but that this will play one part of a range of services which includes information on safer sex education, counselling and testing.”

“HIV is indiscriminate and we have a real opportunity through this type of pilot to empower people to take charge of their own sexual health and reduce the instances of HIV diagnoses here.”

“HIV is increasing in Northern Ireland with around 100 new diagnoses each year. We want to make sure that everything that can be done to support those in need or ensure those at most risk have opportunities to prevent themselves from contracting HIV.”

New Report: Councils with more powers and responsibilities is good for NI

A new report commissioned by the Northern Ireland Local Government Association has said that the time is now right to extend the responsibilities of local government in Northern Ireland through greater devolution from Stormont.

The report ‘Devolution within Northern Ireland’ authored by the independent New Policy Institute, states that the opportunity now exists to unlock the potential of local government as the hub of public services and one which has a key part to play to solving the current paralysis.

 Derek McCallan, NILGA Chief Executive

Derek McCallan, NILGA Chief Executive

Councils here - as in England, the Republic of Ireland, Wales and Scotland - could have direct responsibility for services and, like elsewhere, undertake scrutiny of matters which remain the direct responsibility of the NI Executive or its agencies, the report states.

The report highlights:

  • Councils were responsible for less than 4% (£738m) of public spending in NI in 2015/16, compared with 27% in Scotland and Wales.
  • The NI Executive’s 88% share of total public spending was more than double that of the Scottish and Welsh Governments.
  • Neighbourhood services are the New Policy Institute’s main candidates for devolution to councils which cover local highways and transport, cultural and related services, environment, regulation, planning and regeneration, plus business and skills development. At present, councils are responsible for under half of them. If they took them all, they would be responsible for just seven per cent of total NI public spending.
  • Councils could also exercise scrutiny over areas of spending, for example aspects of social care and public health, which remain the responsibility of the Executive or its agencies. Scotland’s Local Governance Review is a model which could be adopted to examine this approach in NI.

Derek McCallan, Chief Executive of NILGA commented:

“It must be recognised that to keep Northern Ireland moving forward, greater devolution of responsibilities with proper financial resourcing must be put on the table, not just as the antidote to current paralysis but to strengthen democratic input by local people in the longer term in how we spend £21 billion per annum here.”

“It’s the norm in all other places.”

“It’s not a drive for independence or a power grab, by local government, that’s a shallow view. Rather, it is based on evidence and recognition that councils can carry more resources and responsibilities (given the success of the new local government system) away from the Executive and the central government to keep local services being delivered with an appropriate level of democratic scrutiny, which serves communities better.”

“This independent report provides us with evidence that this works in Scotland and Wales and is not an alien concept - places where a quarter of their £50 billion annual budgets are delivered in a far more cost effective & localised way.”

“We have taken action in the absence of political (Ministerial) decision taking, re-convened an elected member forum, drawn from central and local government members, so that we can map out how this can happen; we’re very keen to develop further our work with parties, councils and NILGA’s many partners in business, the voluntary and community sector, education, health and more”. 

Brown O'Connor Communications Job Opportunity: Client Executive (Public Affairs / Corporate Communications)

Job Opportunity: Brown O'Connor Communications, Belfast

Position: Client Executive (Public Affairs/Corporate Communications)
Salary: £17,000 per annum (Full-Time Role) / Based: Adelaide Street, Belfast City Centre

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The Person

Brown O’Connor Communications is seeking a Client Executive to work in the areas of Public Affairs and Corporate Communications.

This is an exciting and demanding role within a small company and we require a resilient individual with emerging leadership qualities to join the team. 

You will have a deep interest in politics, business and the media and have a developing understanding of the role that public affairs, media relations and stakeholder relations plays.

Once you join the Brown O’Connor team, you’ll be signed up as a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and enrolled on the Continuous Professional Development programme.

About Brown O’Connor Communications

Brown O’Connor is an ambitious and trusted communications consultancy based in Belfast City Centre. We help our clients gain impact and outcomes through specialist insight and influence with decision makers. 

We have a growing track record for managing and delivering complex communications programmes for some of the UK and Ireland’s leading businesses, professional services, charities, trade bodies, interest groups and public-sector organisations.

Find out more here:


·Third Level Degree or equivalent in the preferred areas of Communications, Law, Politics, Business, Social Science or Humanities.  

·Have a strong interest is the news agenda, particularly political and business news.

·Knowledge of government institutions and NI politics. 

·Possess strong writing and editing skills with ability to write attention-grabbing media material, client correspondence and reports.

·Expected to attend events for client and networking purposes.

·Willing to work evenings and weekends as required by client activity. 

·Strong initiative, leadership skills and work ethic.

·Ability to hustle to make things happen.

·Understanding of what makes social media content engaging.

Desired Criteria

·Clean driving licence.

How to Apply:

To apply, please send a cover letter and C.V. to Brown O’Connor Communications at by Tuesday 31st July at 5pm. 

Dr Eamon Phoenix back by popular demand in aid of Brain Injury Matters

An evening of classical harp music and a talk by leading historian and broadcaster, Dr Eamon Phoenix, is due to take place on 21 June at the First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street in Belfast.

The event, ‘A Midsummer Celebration of the 1792 Harp Festival’ will be in aid of Brain Injury Matters, the charity dedicated to supporting people with Acquired Brain Injury to rebuild their lives.

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The 1792 Harp Festival was a four-day event organised by Dr. James McDonnell, Robert Bradshaw and Henry Joy (proprietor of the Belfast News-Letter and uncle to Henry Joy McCracken). The purpose of the festival was to revive an interest in harp music and to collect the music of the harpers and note their style of playing for future generations.

Due to popular demand, this is the second talk that Dr Eamon Phoenix will give for the rehabilitation charity in recent months - the previous event selling out.

Irish Harpist James Patience and Family, who have played at venues all over Northern Ireland and even for the Queen, will perform at the event paying tribute to the 1792 festival.

The pre-event reception, sponsored by Winemark, takes place from 7pm with the performance from 7.30pm to 9pm. 

Tickets are only £10 and can be purchased by emailing or calling 028 9070 5125.

Belfast City Deal: On Track for Autumn Statement Inclusion? - Here's the detail

Development of the Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD) in accordance with the requirements of the Department for Communities and Local Government, is now in full operation according to Belfast City Council. Here's the rundown of some of the details taken from recently published minutes.

The programme is being developed to fulfil the agreed objective for the city deal of ‘more and better jobs; inclusive growth; improved skills and growth of domestic business and FDI’.  

At the last SP&R Committee at Belfast City Council, members were provided with an update on the work completed to define the key strands of the Belfast city Region deal in relation to Innovation, Digital, Infrastructure, Tourism and Employability and Skills.


This included a number of outline innovation proposals from the two Universities relating to:

·        A Digital Innovation Centre

·        A Financial (and Legal) Technology Centre

·        Academic Medical Research Institute

·        Creative Industries Centre of Excellence

·        A Global Innovation Institute

Employability and Skills

An Employability and Skills framework with three principal strands:

1.     Targeting economic inactivity

2.     Addressing skill supply issues

3.     Meeting the skills needs of our growth sectors

Specific priority areas and programmes are being developed to support the key strands in areas such as; Careers Enhancement, Apprenticeship Hub, Graduate Development, Employability for All, Economic Activation, Business Productivity.


A digital proposition led by Future Cities Catapult which has now identified significant digital innovation projects including;

·        A 5G Smart District

·        A Regional Connectivity Fund

·        A Digital Innovation Platform

·        Makers Network


Work has commenced on the development of an OBC for the Belfast Story gallery and film Centre which is due to be completed by the end of June 2018.  Work is also continuing on Tourism product in other areas such as the Gobbins II and Carrickfergus Castle.

Other Infrastructure

Key infrastructure projects linked to the priorities identified in a number of council strategies including the Belfast Agenda, the City Centre Regeneration Strategy and the Local Development Plan.  These include, Belfast Rapid Transit phase 2- Linking the north & south of the city, Lagan Bridges and Links, Transport Hub phase 2 (Weavers Cross), York Street Interchange and Living with Water.  It should be noted that all of the ‘suggested’ projects will now undergo a costing and prioritisation process and there will inevitably be a number which will not be delivered under city deal.

Work has also begun on the affordability element of projects and a process has begun to ensure any projects going forward to the deal have robust costings from both a capital and revenue perspective.  Financing considerations are also being developed at both a project and programme level including assessing affordability, borrowing requirements and alternative sources of funding.

The six chief executives and senior officials from NICS will now meet with MHCLG and HMT to update on the work completed, test emerging projects for possible inclusion in the deal, discuss financing and economic modelling and agree next steps in the negotiations to ensure the city region is on track to secure a deal by the autumn statement.

Next Steps

While significant work has been completed to date, the development of the deal is entering a new phase.   Officers are now assessing the resource and expertise required to develop robust project propositions that will secure the best possible deal.  Information required by MHCLG at project level includes:

·        Purpose of the project

·        Impacts- outcomes/outputs

·        Economic Modelling

·        Operation and Sustainability

·        Delivery Model

·        Timescales

·        Finances

·        Interdependencies

This will involve more intensive working with the NICS departments, the Universities, Belfast Harbour, the FE colleges, Belfast Met, other training providers and the private sector.  New work streams and governance structures are therefore being developed which will also have to take account of the financing arrangements and proposals to support the delivery on the deal once this is secured. As agree at the last meeting a Joint members Forum will be held with members from all six councils to discuss progress.  This will be hosted by Antrim and Newtownabbey in this month.

Retail NI urges businesses to back campaign to 'Save Your Local Pharmacy' before many could be forced to shut


Retail NI, the membership organisation which represents thousands of independent retail traders in Northern Ireland, has backed the campaign to save local community pharmacies, which are under attack due to a lack of financial support from the Department of Health. 

  Photo (from L to R):  Paul Savage, Community Pharmacist; Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive, Retail NI; and Gerard Greene, Chief Executive, Community Pharmacy NI.

Photo (from L to R): Paul Savage, Community Pharmacist; Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive, Retail NI; and Gerard Greene, Chief Executive, Community Pharmacy NI.

Chief Executive of Retail NI, Glyn Roberts, has urged everyone in the business community to sign the Community Pharmacy NI petition to address the worrying fact that local pharmacists are dispensing at a loss and require an emergency package to plug a £20 million funding gap – before many pharmacies are forced to shut.

Like any other business, community pharmacists have similar financial pressures such as rates, rent, staff wages, taxes and general upkeep. This coupled with the rising incidence of violent crime on local chemists, medicine shortages, rising demand and a deepening workforce crisis, means that there are a plethora of issues they are faced with.

Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of Retail NI said:

“Community Pharmacy is a great example of a sector which has been firmly rooted for decades in the towns and villages across Northern Ireland. They are normally anchor tenants and play a vital role in the vibrancy of many areas.”

“It is the most accessible part of the health service and could be regarded as the heartbeat of the high street. But due to underfunding by the Department of Health, it is currently under attack which means that some pharmacies could close, and close soon. We simply can’t let that happen.”

“We cannot afford more vacant units on the high street, especially those of the local pharmacist who provides much needed healthcare in a community setting. In fact, community pharmacy has an extremely important role in driving footfall for other forms of retail and services and should not be overlooked in the other parts that they play – socially and economically.”

“We have recently joined the campaign to ‘Save Your Pharmacy’ and call on everyone to add their name to the fight and sign their petition at by going to

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive, Community Pharmacy NI said today:

“We welcome the support from Retail NI and the boost it has given our campaign. We fully commend Glyn and his team in understanding just how important community pharmacy is to the high street, the wider retail offering, and the front-line healthcare that it provide to tens of thousands of people every day across Northern Ireland.”

“This is an extremely difficult period for community pharmacy. We are now coming to critical point when some pharmacists are being forced to make tough decisions which may force them to close causing hundreds of job losses across Northern Ireland and a hugely negative impact on patients and customers. We urge as many in the business community to support our campaign and sign the petition before it is too late.”