The Health spokespeople from each of the main political parties have expressed concern about the current funding crisis in community pharmacy in Northern Ireland which may lead to some pharmacists having to close their doors for good.
In a letter co-signed by five Health spokespeople directed to the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, they state that despite several investigations outlining the cost of service, there remains an identified shortfall in excess of £20 million in funding needed to run community pharmacy effectively. This was independently outlined in a Cost of Service Investigation carried out by PwC and published by the Department 6 months ago (November 2017).
The cross-party support for community pharmacy comes at a time when the representative body Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland has called for the Department to meet to resolve a number of pressures. The organisation which represents over 530 pharmacies has received universal backing in its assertion that an enhanced role for community pharmacies could shift many of the bottlenecks and pressure points elsewhere in primary health care.
The group of Health spokespeople have called on the Department of Health to:
- Open further discussions with the representative body Community Pharmacy NI;
- Urgently introduce an interim rescue package;
- Reintroduce proprietary mitigation to address the issue of ‘dispensing at a loss’;
- Ensuring sufficient funding is maintained in rural areas;
- Deliver a new community pharmacy contract as a matter of urgency.
Health Committee Chair in the previous Assembly, Paula Bradley MLA said:
“We understand that the health service is under severe pressure, but we desperately need the clinical skills and community support provided by our pharmacies.”
“Community pharmacists across Northern Ireland are not only calling for a new contract to be brought forward; but that funding is maintained in rural areas; dispensing medicine at a loss is addressed; and an interim rescue package is forthcoming to plug visible gaps.”
“We as a group of health focussed MLAs have been approached by a number of local pharmacy owners that they may have to close their doors as a direct result of the decision taken by the Department of Health. That is simply unacceptable for such a critical service.”
“We need, in the absence of the Assembly and a Minister in place, for the Permanent Secretary to give these issues his urgent attention.”
Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI said:
“Community pharmacies have a vital role in delivering community-based healthcare services and the promotion of well-being, with around 123,000 people visiting a community pharmacy every day.
“It is often the first point of contact for people to the health service and it is also the last point of contact for those receiving prescribed medication.
“We welcome the support from the main parties on the current issues facing community pharmacy and their call for the Department of Health to act to immediately stabilise the network here.
“The healthcare system needs radical change and key to this is giving community pharmacy a more proactive role in public health and in the prevention and management of long term conditions.
“Scotland and Wales provide us with excellent examples of what this change looks like and the impact it can have on improving patient outcomes, shifting demand and delivering efficiencies.
“Through better understanding of its services, greater recognition of its value and with a flagship role at the heart of public health, our vital place-based network of community pharmacies can play a significant role in solving the crisis facing us.
“The intervention from this group of MLAs hasn’t come a moment too soon as the policy divergence between what has been agreed in terms of financial support and what is being realised is substantially different and simply can’t continue in this way.”
“This call from our elected representatives is vital in terms of ensuring that community pharmacy is recognised as a health service priority and resourced accordingly before it is too late.”