Speech and Language therapists call for urgent investment in services

Thousands of people waiting for speech and language therapy in Northern Ireland  

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) in Northern Ireland has called for urgent investment in speech and language therapy ahead of its conference this weekend.

The organisation is currently engaging in a workforce review with the Department of Health which will report that one in six speech and language therapy posts are vacant. This level of vacancy is contributing to an unacceptable number of people waiting for speech and language therapy in Northern Ireland.

The professional body has said that the ongoing review must address the need for increased resourcing and capacity building for staff to ensure that posts are filled and waiting lists can be tackled. With increased resources available to Northern Ireland, the profession demands that the needs of people with communication and swallowing difficulties are prioritised.

Thousands of children and adults with communication and or eating and drinking difficulties are waiting many months for assessment by a speech and language therapist and this is having a huge impact on their lives.

With children and young people, early intervention is crucial to improve life outcomes. For many people with debilitating conditions, access to speech and language therapy can be life-saving particularly for those with swallowing difficulties.

Head of the RCSLT office in NI, Alison McCullough MBE said:

“In advance of our conference, we are calling for urgent investment to tackle the large numbers of vacant speech and language therapy posts.

Alison McCullough MBE, Head of the NI office of The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

Alison McCullough MBE, Head of the NI office of The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

“The number of vacant posts that the ongoing workforce review has identified, is having a direct impact on the numbers of people waiting for speech and language therapy and the waiting time for assessment. This situation is extremely worrying.

“Speech and language therapy transforms lives. It can change life outcomes for children and young people in terms of education and employment, and it also gives people a voice, so that they can communicate their wishes and needs to those around them.

“The work being carried out by the Department of Health in this case is welcome, however we do need strategic policy commitments and direction that can only come from having local and accountable decision-making in Northern Ireland.

Medicine supply to patients 'no longer guaranteed' say community pharmacists after warning over finances from wholesalers

Suppliers and wholesalers have now written to the Department of Health to warn that the supply of medicines ‘will grind to a halt’. 

The Chief of Community Pharmacy NI has slammed Department of Health officials for ignoring repeated calls by the network, and now wholesalers, to save community pharmacy from imminent collapse.

The situation has deteriorated so severely that it has now been revealed that several wholesalers have contacted the Department of Health to warn that the ‘supply of medicines will grind to a halt’ because of the credit worthiness of pharmacies.

In one letter, a wholesaler has advised the Department that it has begun to see, with increasing frequency, pharmacies failing to pay their bills. Wholesalers have said that they have no other option but to call time on local community pharmacists.   

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI commented:

“It is not surprising to learn that several wholesalers have contacted the Department regarding this. We have been telling them for some time that community pharmacy is on its knees and cannot pay its bills.

Gerard Greene, CEO, Community Pharmacy NI.

Gerard Greene, CEO, Community Pharmacy NI.

“We have seen correspondence which shows that the Department was warned some time ago by a major wholesaler that the supply of medicines to patients could grind to a halt.

“We have also been warning the Department that the failure to resolve this issue will have dire consequences for patient safety. This is now becoming a reality with the warning from wholesalers that there is an imminent danger of pharmacies failing and patients being unable to obtain their medicines. 

“From a recent survey of our members we were truly shocked to learn that many of them have had to use pension funds and savings to plug gaps and pay suppliers and keep providing medicines to their patients.

“What is more difficult to understand is the fact that we have political support across the board for an improvement of the pharmacy contract, as well as direction from the last Health Minister Michelle O’Neill to sort this out.

MPs and MLAs have called for Community Pharmacy under-funding to be urgently addressed.

MPs and MLAs have called for Community Pharmacy under-funding to be urgently addressed.

“The sheer intransigence of the Department in resolving this situation will result in pharmacies closing and will reduce people’s access to a vital health service, impacting hugely upon patient safety.”

“Funding of at least £130 million is required for a safe community pharmacy service in Northern Ireland. The Department knows that but has been wilfully ignoring this reality for some time.”

Chair of Community Pharmacy NI, John Clark added:

“Consistent underfunding of the community pharmacy network means that many community pharmacists can no longer afford to keep to their credit terms with suppliers and wholesalers.

“These are pharmacists who have been running successful pharmacy businesses for years but who now face having to ask wholesalers for extensions to credit terms because the Department is not paying them adequately for the medicines they dispense. 

Chair of Community Pharmacy NI, John Clark

Chair of Community Pharmacy NI, John Clark

“If wholesalers have to start refusing credit to community pharmacies this could affect all types of medicines and we have no idea of what types. At the moment, all medicine supplies are at risk.

“At a time when the health service is under severe strain, pharmacists provide a walk-in service that requires no appointment. That is of massive importance to many people, not least of which are those who are older, vulnerable and take a combination of medicines for complex conditions. Pharmacists provide fundamental advice and support to those people to ensure they manage their medicines in a safe way.

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“It is of huge concern that many patients will now be at risk of going without medicines simply because the Department refuses to acknowledge a problem it has been warned about for some time.”

Brown O'Connor Communications Political and Business Diary - November and December 2018


12 November, House of Commons returns from recess

13 & 14 November, William J Clinton Leadership Institute – Leadership & Negotiation

14 November, NICC in camera dinner with Derek McCallan, CEO, NILGA

14 - 16 November, Association of Pension Lawyers conference, Europa Hotel

15 November, RTPI Ireland annual dinner, Dublin

16 November, CO3 CEO Networking Session

16 – 18 November, Citizens Assembly meets

19 November, CBI Annual Conference – Business: The Next Generation (London)

19 November, The Asia Matters Business Awards, Dublin

20 November, Q&A with Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin - UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-terrorism and Human Rights, QUB

20 November, Stephen Livingstone Annual Lecture 2018

20 November, agendaNI Northern Ireland Planning conference

21 November, Women in IT awards

22 November, CBI: People and Skills: Business Insight Conference

22 November, Northern Ireland Environmental Benchmarking Survey Results Launch

22 November, Business Eye First Trust Awards

24 November, DUP Party Conference

27 November, CBI Insight: The Future of UK Trade

28 November, Keeping the Cranes Up conference, QUB

29 November, NI Chamber President’s Banquet, Waterfront Hall

30 November, Belfast Chamber Festive Drinks reception

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4 December, NI Chamber Energy Forum in partnership with SONI

4 December, NI Chamber Christmas Networking

4 December, The Brexit survival guide for business (by Business First Network)

5 December, NI Policy Forum: Next steps in delivering the Belfast City Region Deal

6 December, NI Policy Forum: Next steps in delivering healthcare reform in Northern Ireland

6 December, NI Chamber near market visit - Manchester

10 December, What next for the proposed Northern Ireland Bill of Rights? Ulster University

10 December, The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Annual Statement Launch

10 & 11 December, William J Clinton Leadership Institute - Leading with Data: Business Analytics for Executives

11 December, NI Chamber International Trade training

13 & 14 December, EU leaders summit

14 December, CO3 CEO Networking Session

18 December, Dealing with HMRC investigations, Chartered Accountants Ireland

20 December, UK Parliament Christmas recess


£65m investment in peace building showcased at international Build Peace Conference

The Urban Villages Initiative was showcased to an international audience at an event in Belfast this week.

The event, held at the Ormeau Baths, was an opportunity to present projects from the £65 million investment to delegates from the Build Peace conference. The conference is taking place in Ulster University and brings together around 250 activists, academics and policy makers from all over the world to discuss innovation in peacebuilding and conflict transformation.

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The Urban Villages Initiative is a headline action within the NI Executive’s Together Building a United Community (TBUC) strategy and is overseen by the Executive Office. It is designed to improve good relations and areas where there has been a history of deprivation and community tension.

The initiative brings together the Executive Office, local government and community and voluntary groups and has seen success in delivering a number of projects specific to each area.


The five Urban Villages are The Bogside, Fountain and Bishop Street in Derry-Londonderry, Ardoyne and greater Ballysillan, Colin, the lower part of the Newtownards Road and Sandy Row, Donegall Pass and the Markets. 

Dr Mark Browne, Director, Strategic of Policy Equality and Good Relations said:

We are delighted to be supporting the Build Peace 2018 International Conference. It is fantastic to see so many international delegates here in Belfast and a privilege to be able to tell them about the Executive’s Good Relations Strategy, ‘Together: Building a United Community’ (T:buc).

We showcased the Urban Villages Initiative at the event. This is a £65 million investment by the Executive in areas where there has previously been a history of deprivation and community tension. Through a combination of community and capital projects this programme is clearly impacting good relations by fostering positive community identity, building community capacity and impacting the physical environment.”

Kate Mytty, Build Up Associate and MIT Visiting Lecturer added:

"As part of the Build Peace 2018 conference, we hosted an evening panel and discussion session to bring together international delegates and representatives from Belfast. A number of projects from Urban Villages that work to build greater connection were highlighted that embody the conference’s theme of building peace by re-imagining prosperity.”

Community Pharmacy Chief warns Westminster group that patient services falling behind in Northern Ireland

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI has told the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy today that patient services in Northern Ireland lag massively behind their counterparts in Great Britain and that nothing is being done to close the gap.

CPNI CEO Gerard Greene with Chair of Pharmacy APPG Sir Kevin Barron

CPNI CEO Gerard Greene with Chair of Pharmacy APPG Sir Kevin Barron

Setting out the stark message to a range of MPs and Lords, Gerard Greene said that patients here have been deprived of services that have been accessible elsewhere in the United Kingdom for several years.

“Scotland and Wales provide us with excellent examples of what innovation and development looks like and the impact it can have on improving patient outcomes, reacting to shifting demands and delivering efficiencies.”

“The healthcare system in Northern Ireland 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.”

He added:

“For example, Community Pharmacists in the likes of Scotland and Wales have been prioritised for training in Independent Prescribing – whereby a pharmacist may prescribe autonomously for any condition within their clinical competence - is not even being considered in Northern Ireland.”  

“Development in community pharmacy has suffered significantly as the current £20m per annum 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 CPNI Photo 1 .jpg

“How can we meet the changing needs of public healthcare when there is huge funding problems in the background. We are falling further behind and need the members of the APPG on Pharmacy to recognise that and intervene on our behalf – especially when we have no Assembly or Executive to deal with this devolved issue.”

He informed the parliamentary group that the failure to agree new contractual arrangements was the cause of a lack of development in patient services and that in some areas we are up to 10 years behind colleagues elsewhere.

“We are light years behind in terms of patient services and the fact that the community pharmacy network in Northern Ireland has been plunged into financial uncertainty since 2011/2012 has had a detrimental impact for everyone. The £20million per annum funding gap and the Department of Health’s reticence to deal with it means that we are regressing.”

The meeting in Westminster comes just days after a range of patient groups here demanded answers from the Department of Health as to why the shortfall is not being met and have serious concerns that it is impacting negatively on patients who are having to wait longer on the medicines they need.

Patient groups such as the MS Society are worried as it has been suggested that people living with long term conditions such as MS will suffer if there is a shortage of medicines or pharmacies cannot provide the drugs they need daily.

David Galloway, Northern Ireland Director of the MS Society said:

“Patients rely on pharmacists to not only dispense drugs but also to advise them on how to take medicine appropriately and answer any questions they have around managing their medication. We urgently need the Department to recognise that the growing pressures on community pharmacy pose a significant risk to patient safety.”

'City Deal will accelerate economic development plans' says Eversheds Sutherland Belfast Head of Commercial Property

Reacting to the announcement that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to grant a £350million City Deal for the Belfast region, Head of Commercial Property at Eversheds Sutherland in Belfast, Gareth Planck commented:

Gareth Planck, Eversheds Sutherland Belfast

Gareth Planck, Eversheds Sutherland Belfast

“This bespoke investment package will unlock growth potential and accelerate the regions’ economic development plans and attract new businesses to Northern Ireland, so that we can continue to compete with neighbouring cities in the UK and Ireland. Securing this investment is testament to the galvanised approach of our local councils for the betterment of Northern Ireland. Together they have produced a plan for the city deal which they believe can deliver thousands of jobs through a 10-year investment strategy which builds on our sector strengths.” 


“This is recognition at Government level of the need for Northern Ireland to receive an economic boost. Our firm has witnessed first-hand the positive impact similar City Deals have had in the past across the U.K. Our offices in both Birmingham and Cardiff have observed significant growth within their local economies, job creation, house building and the completion of significant infrastructure projects after their respective cities were granted similar investments in 2012 and 2016. As a firm we look forward to seeing the same growth and success in Belfast that will filter out across Northern Ireland.”

Chancellor cops out on chance to boost NI Economy, but Beer and Spirit duty freeze welcome - Hospitality Ulster

Reacting to the UK Budget delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon, Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster from Westminster said:

“We welcome some elements of the Budget outlined by the Chancellor this afternoon, but there are a range of topics that require more work and a doubling down of pressure, as Northern Ireland once again remains far down the pecking order for the Treasury.”

Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster

Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster

“The potential for this Budget to deliver for the Northern Ireland economy and the hospitality sector was great, but instead it has left so many issues hanging and many questions unanswered.”

On Beer and Spirit Duty Freeze

“We welcome the freeze on beer duty by the Chancellor which ends five years of successive increases in beer tax. We are also happy to see that duty on spirits will stay the same. This is important for the hospitality sector here in Northern Ireland as we need to encourage people to come out and socialise in pubs and enjoy themselves in a controlled environment, otherwise more pubs will close and problem drinking at home will continue to increase.”

On Tourism VAT

“We are dismayed that the Chancellor has failed to address the issue of tourism VAT stating that the existence of multiple VAT rates in the same territory would lead to additional administrative burdens for taxpayers and businesses.” 

“The UK’s 20% Tourism VAT rate is one of the highest in Europe, and Northern Ireland hospitality and tourism businesses are particularly vulnerable as the Republic of Ireland is its second largest market and nearest competitor.”

“The disadvantage continues to be acutely felt right across Northern Ireland with the NI VAT rate acting as a brake on the growth of the hospitality and tourism sector.”

“How can the sector in NI be expected to compete when the UK government continues to tie the hands of the sector behind its back on this issue as the Republic pushes on, even at a new higher rate of 13.5% in the new year.”

"It is imperative that the rate is cut in Northern Ireland so we can continue to grow a vital part of the regional economy. The hospitality sector is an engine for growth and we can no longer suffocate it. This is a live and real problem which is crippling trade.”

On Air Passenger Duty (APD)

“We are disappointed that there has been no movement by the Chancellor today, but it is a result that a technical working group is to be established to examine the issue in detail.  We are hopeful that the group can come to a definitive and positive conclusion as soon as possible.”

“We live on an island, and in terms of business travel and tourists we need to maximise the opportunity that we have by lowering or eradicating barriers when it comes to getting on and off our island. Our airports have to compete internationally, and with the likes of Dublin airport only 100 miles down the road we have to pull every economic lever available to us when it comes to air travel. No change means that we continue to face the difficulties this tax presents. We need help to fill our hotels, pubs and restaurants the year round.”

Business Rates

“We look with some concern to the announcement by the Chancellor to provide all retailers in England with rateable value of £51,000 or less to have their business rates bill cut by a third and support from a £675m Future High Streets Fund to help councils there transform town centres.”

“Without an Assembly or Executive, we find ourselves in a very difficult position as Northern Ireland will not benefit from any of these financial injections due to the rating system being devolved.”

“The government has acknowledged at the highest level the need to deal with the rates problem crippling business elsewhere in the UK. Our devolved administration must also.”

“We now demand that Civil Servants here look at the policy developed under the previous Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir to revamp the small business rates relief system to lessen the financial burden on small retailers and the hospitality sector in particular so that we are in line with the rest of the UK and not left hanging because of the current political paralysis.”

“We have invited the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance to meet with us to address this issue urgently.”

Hospitality chief shocked at new research on supermarket undercutting ahead of UK Budget

Reacting to the news today that pub trade industry bible ‘The Morning Advertiser’ has published research that shows that the equivalent of pints in supermarkets are being sold for as low as 79p, Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster stated:

“We are astounded today to see the research from the pub trade publication ‘The Morning Advertiser’ that the below cost selling of alcohol is rife within supermarkets – a contributory factor in putting so many pubs here under extreme pressure.”

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster

“This shocking information comes just days away from a Budget that is likely to see the Chancellor increase beer duty by 3.5%, which will put 4p on the price of a pint. This is not acceptable and will be the ruination of many livelihoods, taking away jobs.”

“Figures show that between 2016 and 2017 alone, almost 90 pubs closed in Northern Ireland - an average of one every four days - partly because of five successive years of increases in beer tax.”

“The government is effectively pushing people out of pubs – a controlled environment – into harmful drinking at home which has a whole range of negative health and social consequences. Only 6% of the population consumes 44% here which will increase if supermarkets continue to get away with slashing prices.”

“How is the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland expected to compete in that environment when it is undercut, crippling the trade in the mouth of the festive period.”


Belfast City Council Draft Plan Strategy - Where is it in the system?

Belfast Local Development Plan (LDP) draft Plan Strategy (DPS) had been published for consultation on 23rd August and it had previously been agreed to keep the timetable under review to consider progress to date and the next stages in the process.

Whilst approval for publication of the DPS had been granted by the Council in June, it had been agreed to delay the launch until the end of the summer break to enhance the potential engagement and responses.

Due to the revised launch date for the DPS, it was likely that the full DPS consultation stage, including collation of representations and reporting to Councillors, would be completed by March 2019.


Following this, the DPS, all associated documents and all representations received must be collated and submitted to the Department for Infrastructure in May 2019. Following its consideration of the documents, DfI would then refer the DPS to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) for the Independent Examination stage.

DfI had recently indicated that its consideration of the document should take up to six weeks, meaning that the DPS and all documents would be issued to the PAC by the end June, 2019.

Anger rises at Community Pharmacists meeting as some claim they are on verge of closure

Threat to vital health service will have negative and damaging impact to most vulnerable in society meeting hears. 

Over 100 local pharmacists from across Northern Ireland met in Belfast last night to express their real frustration and anger about the lack of progress by the Department of Health in addressing the funding crisis in community pharmacy.

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive, Community Pharmacy NI

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive, Community Pharmacy NI

The meeting was called in direct response to the fragile position the sector finds itself after five months of campaigning and engagement has failed to bring any certainty or clarity for the future.

The cost of providing community pharmacy services is currently under-funded “by at least £20 million” and around 90% of pharmacist respondents to a recent CPNI survey feeling the “current funding situation is having an impact on their own health and wellbeing”, the representative body Community Pharmacy NI has claimed.

Many local pharmacists who attended the meeting also claimed that the paralysis in decision making will result in pharmacies closing and will reduce people’s access to a vital health service, impacting the most vulnerable in society.

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A direct appeal was made to Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health to alleviate the problems and follow through with the commitment to release funding to arrest the decline within community pharmacy.

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive, Community Pharmacy NI commented after the meeting:

“The level of anger being directed towards the Department of Health is at boiling point. The contractors that we represent are adamant that this stand-off cannot continue.”

“They are at breaking point as the realities of managing their businesses on a day to day basis, whilst serving patients and customers, is causing severe strain.” 

“The cost of providing the community pharmacy service is hugely underfunded due to a shortfall in what the Department of Health is willing to allocate, and the cost of keeping community pharmacies open.”

“Some contractors have told us that they are ready to go out of business. This is unacceptable and must be urgently addressed.”

“We are calling for clear and fair remuneration and reimbursement so that investment can take place to meet safety, quality and efficacy requirements. At present that just does not exist.”

One leading Community Pharmacist, Paul Savage from Belfast added:

“Consistent underfunding means that myself and my community pharmacy colleagues everywhere cannot afford to keep normal stocks of medicines which shows how grave the situation is.”


“It is completely unacceptable and unjust that we have been forced to subsidise the provision of an essential healthcare service due to this lack of funding.”

“The year on year increase in workload of community pharmacists’ means that we have still to undertake a combination of core dispensing, over the counter medicine supply and advice, wider community pharmacy services and employ a skilled workforce at the same time as the level of funding from government has, in real terms decreased.”