LOCAL pharmacies have been handed a lifeline after a High Court judge ruled that proper consultation was not carried out before £38m in budget cuts were implemented.
As reported in the Times, several pharmacies across the borough feared they would be forced to close after the Department of Health slashed the community pharmacy budget by up to 30 per cent.
In a bid to reverse the cuts, Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) – which represents more than 500 chemists – launched a judicial review against the Department.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Treacy held that health chiefs did not carry out proper consultation before imposing the cutbacks.
Local politicians have welcomed the ruling, with East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson now calling on Health Minister Edwin Poots to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
“It is great news that the court has ruled that the Health Department did not carry out a proper consultation exercise into the level of cuts that they imposed on community pharmacies,” he said.
“I would urge the Minister to start talks with CPNI to ensure that a fair and reasonable level of funding is provided to such an important front line service. I hope that an agreement can be reached quickly before any community pharmacy goes out of business.”
Sinn Féin MLA Oliver McMullan was also pleased with the High Court decision and said: “In October, I was signatory to a Sinn Féin motion in the Assembly calling on the Health Minister to put a contingency plan in place to protect pharmacy services in rural and socially disadvantaged areas following the introduction of new funding arrangements.
“So I very much welcome this ruling for community pharmacies. We were concerned the impact the cuts would have on pharmacies in rural areas and those of high depravation.
“The Department needs to appreciate the good work that community pharmacies are doing throughout the North. Community pharmacies provide a crucial service to people most in need and we need to protect this vital service to patients.”
After winning the review, CPNI said it was determined to work with the Health Minister to protect essential frontline services.
Gerard Greene, chief executive of CPNI, said: “While we welcome Mr Justice Treacy’s decision that the proper consultation process had not been followed, it is imperative that we now find a solution that ensures fair and reasonable funding for the pharmacy services provided to patients in Northern Ireland.
“It remains our intention to work with the Health Minister, the Department and the Health and Social Care Board to find a solution that will protect the essential front line health care services we provide to our local communities. Community pharmacy is in crisis and we are concerned that unless measures are put in place straight away, this may impact on the long-term sustainability of community pharmacy in Northern Ireland.”
Both sides will return to court early next year to try to resolve the issue.