Role of Pharmacies deserves recognition in July Stimulus

Pharmacies effectively being punished for staying open

20 July 2020: Pharmacies across the country must be supported and protected. The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has called on the Government to ensure the July Stimulus recognises the unique challenges faced by pharmacies.

Commenting in advance of the anticipated announcement of the Stimulus Plan, IPU Secretary General Darragh O’Loughlin said, “From the first day of lockdown pharmacies have remained open delivering an essential healthcare service to their communities. At a time when many healthcare services were shutting down and scaling back, pharmacies stepped up and ensured medicine supply in communities across the country continued. But this has been an extremely challenging time with significantly increased costs and significantly reduced turnover.

“Pharmacies are recognised as an essential healthcare service, but they are also businesses, and it is unreasonable to expect them to bear the soaring costs of providing services for the State during a pandemic. The costs have included installation of protective screens, PPE and additional staff. All of these are primarily designed to keep the public safe while still providing an essential service. Had pharmacies not stayed open they would not have incurred these costs. It is hard to shake the feeling that we are being punished for staying open and fulfilling our duties.

Mr O’Loughlin continued, “The Government needs to protect pharmacies as has happened in other countries. Pharmacies in Northern Ireland have been far better protected with a £20 million support package, while in this jurisdiction we have received no support from the Department of Health. Even a very modest request to supply pharmacy teams with protective masks has not been granted by the Department.”

Measures being called for by the Irish Pharmacy Union in the July Stimulus include:

  • A full commercial rates waiver for essential healthcare businesses in 2020 with a further reduction in 2021;
  • A scheme to protect pharmacies and other essential businesses from excessive rent demands, particularly under legacy rent agreements. This should include a facility for State burden-sharing and protection from short-term eviction;
  • Extension of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme until 2021 and commitment that its removal will be phased gradually; and
  • Expand the eligibility criteria for state supports beyond crude measures of turnover to recognise the impact of increased costs.

Mr O’Loughlin concluded, “The pressures on pharmacies during the initial phase of the pandemic were immense, with extreme logistical, financial and personal challenges. The Department of Health poured resources into sustaining GP services, but pharmacies were ignored. The absence of support from the Department of Health means that, should we have a second surge in infections in the autumn as is forecast, we cannot be confident that pharmacy services will be maintainable.”