‘Cuts put local pharmacies at risk’ - chemist warns

A LARNE pharmacist has claimed that jobs and vital front-line healthcare services are being lost due to “devastating” Government cutbacks.

Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI), the organisation representing local chemists, said over 125 staff have lost their jobs to date as pharmacy contractors struggle to deal with the impact of 30 per cent funding cuts, which were imposed by Health Minister Edwin Poots earlier this year.

A survey undertaken by CPNI, reflecting the views of over 100 pharmacy contractors across the Province, found that essential front-line services have already fallen by the wayside as pharmacies are forced to scale back as a result of the cuts.

And Anne-Marie McGrath, who runs McFarlane’s Pharmacy Plus on Main Street, warned that local services would “continue to suffer” unless the cuts are reversed.

“It is simply impossible for any service to absorb a 30 per cent budget reduction. If the funds aren’t there, we won’t be able to keep on board some of the services we provide because of possible redundancies and reduction in working hours,” she added.

“Some of these services are absolutely vital and it’s hard to tell how we are going to be affected.

“This is the last thing I want because I came into pharmacy to care for people. But it is going to be sorely impacted. With less staff leading to longer waiting times I may not be able to give the service that we are proud to provide.”

According to the CPNI survey, 70 per cent of local chemists said they are struggling to meet wholesaler payment demands, while over 60 per cent are reporting a knock-on effect on the patient due to a delay or interruption in the supply of medicines to pharmacies. The body claimed this could result in people not being able to get their vital medication on time.

In addition, CPNI said pharmacists have been forced to consider reducing opening hours and withdrawing a number of voluntary services they provide, including provision of weekly compliance aids, smoking cessation services, blood pressure and cholesterol checks, and prescription collection and delivery services due to staff and funding shortages.

Gerard Greene, chief executive of CPNI has called for the Health Minister to put a contingency plan in place to protect pharmacy services - a motion which was unanimously backed by the NI Assembly.

She said: “Community Pharmacy is a vital component of the healthcare system and research shows that is highly valued and supported by the public. However, these cutbacks are unworkable, leaving many with no other choice but to lay off staff and cut back on services in an attempt to survive.

“The services community pharmacists provide are absolutely vital for our patients, particularly older people, those with chronic conditions, and people with young children. At a time when the emphasis within the health service is to shift patient care into the community it defies logic that many pharmacies that help maintain patients within the community now face closure.

“It remains our intention to work with the Minister for Health, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Health and Social Care Board to find a solution that will protect the essential front-line healthcare services we provide in 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 across Northern Ireland.”