Pharmacists’ Shock at Minister’s U-turn on Funding
• New funding cuts will leave rural pharmacies vulnerable and contradict recent Government commitments
Ireland’s 2,300 community pharmacists have been left deeply shocked and concerned after the Department of Health unexpectedly set out severe cuts to pharmacy funding. Pharmacists are warning that these unfair and unjustifiable cuts will hit rural, disadvantaged and isolated pharmacies hardest, and that the funding cuts go completely against the Government’s Sláintecare strategy, which aims to keep health services in the local community.
The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has said, that despite repeated assurances from the Minister for Health Simon Harris that cuts to pharmacists’ incomes that were imposed during the financial crisis would be unwound, the Department of Health has recently revealed proposals for further cuts. The IPU will meet with Minister Harris on Thursday (5 December) and will be urging him not to implement these cuts on 1 January and, instead, to keep his previous promises to commence new pharmacy contract talks so that all issues including investment in expansion of services can be discussed properly.
IPU President and community pharmacist Daragh Connolly says, “Winter is the toughest time for the health service and we need everyone to be working together to keep people out of hospitals. Pharmacies provide a vital service, especially in rural and isolated communities, and these further cuts will hit pharmacy services in these areas hardest. The HSE’s recently announced Winter Plan urges patients to use the right services, including local pharmacists while, at the same time, the Department of Health is threatening to reduce funding to local pharmacies, which will drastically reduce their ability to provide services.
“At the National Pharmacy Conference in May this year, the Minister for Health publicly acknowledged the cuts to pharmacists’ incomes that had been imposed during the financial crisis and the resulting financial pain felt by pharmacists and stated the Government’s intention to unwind those cuts. He also committed to starting talks on a new pharmacy contract and new pharmacy services, “Let’s get that done this year,” he said.
“Pharmacists are shocked and appalled that, contrary to commitments made by the Minister, his Department are now proposing these unjust and unfair cuts, on top of crisis-era cuts that remain in place. Community pharmacists are now the only profession not to have had fee restoration, and instead now further cuts are being proposed.
“Like all pharmacists, I took the Minister for Health and the Government at their word and, as a result of the Minister’s clear commitment, looked forward to FEMPI being unwound with increased investment and an expansion of healthcare services in pharmacy. This will deliver real benefits for patients and will take pressure off the rest of the health system and in particular overstretched GP clinics.”
Mr Connolly concluded, “The proposed cuts will have a negative long-term impact on the sustainability of community pharmacies throughout the country. The cuts are nothing less than a betrayal of clear commitments that the Government has made publicly to the pharmacy profession. Further cuts to pharmacy funding are not reasonable or rational and they don’t tie in with Sláintecare. Pharmacists around the country are deeply concerned and are wondering why these brutal and unjustifiable cuts are now being proposed, especially when our previous submissions setting out how, with no adverse impact on patient care, pharmacists could help the State save €90 million or more per year on biologic medicines have been ignored. We are calling on Minister Harris to stop the cuts and start new pharmacy contract talks now.”
Note to Editors:
Under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) Act, cuts to pharmacy fees were imposed that resulted in a reduction of almost 20% in average pharmacy fee income and a 37% fall in the reimbursement costs for medicines dispensed by pharmacies.
At a time when FEMPI cuts to the incomes of public servants and other professionals, including GPs, have been reversed, the Department of Health has proposed further cuts to fees paid to pharmacies for dispensing medication to medical card patients to take effect on 1 January. The cuts proposed by the Department relate to the following categories of fees:
- Standard dispensing fee income;
- High Tech patient care fee; and
- Phased dispensing fee
The cuts, if implemented, will result in an estimated further reduction in pharmacy funding of over €50 million per year.
For further information contact:
Siobhán Kane, Press and Communications Manager, 087 775 1510