Health department under attack over calls to save community phramacies
The head of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland has criticised the Department of Health for ignoring repeated calls to save the service.
Community pharmacists say they have been warned by wholesalers that the supply of medicines to pharmacies and patients can no longer be guaranteed, as they struggle to pay their bills.
Suppliers and wholesalers have written to the Department of Health to warn that the supply of medicines to community pharmacies could end.
It is understood that several wholesalers have contacted the department of Health directly 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.
Pharmacies claim the department is not paying them adequately for the medicines they dispense, while wholesalers say they have no other option but to call time on local community pharmacists.
Gerard Greene, chief executive of Community Pharmacy NI, said the fallout could affect patient safety.
“It is not surprising to learn that several wholesalers have contacted the department.
“We have been telling them for some time that community pharmacy is on its knees and cannot pay its bills,” he said.
“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.
“From a recent survey of our members we were shocked to learn that many of them have had to use pension funds and savings to plug gaps and pay suppliers.
“The sheer intransigence of the department in resolving this situation will result in pharmacies closing and reduce people’s access to a vital service.
“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.”
The chairman of Community Pharmacy NI, John Clark, added that the sector has been chronically underfunded.
“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,” he said.
“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.
“If wholesalers have to start refusing credit to community pharmacies this could affect all types of medicines.
“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.
“It is of huge concern that 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.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said the department can not spend money it does not have.
“Despite well-documented pressures on the health budget, we are actively working to finalise discussions and secure a sustainable way forward on funding,” she said.
“It always needs to be remembered that the budget is far from infinite and the department cannot spend money it does not have.”
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