In a recent news post, Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman and UUP Leader, stressed the importance of maintaining local community pharmacies, given their role as a major factor in easing the pressures on the health service and GP surgeries.
Community Pharmacy NI (CPNI), welcomes this statement, as it comes at a time when the community pharmacy network faces an escalating financial crisis due to a series of funding cuts affecting all pharmacies, including those in rural areas. This funding shortfall has been compounded in recent months by unprecedented generic medicines shortages leaving pharmacists and their staff with a daily struggle to find many of the medicines needed by their patients. When they do source the items required, they can find themselves paying more than ten times the usual price, all without knowing if they will be fully reimbursed.
This situation is placing immense strain on many pharmacists as they continue to try to maintain high quality services to patients. Community pharmacy owners from across Northern Ireland are telling CPNI, that these funding cuts coupled with the unsatisfactory concessionary price arrangement have led them to question the viability of their pharmacy. Worryingly, evidence also suggests that these current financial pressures are having a serious detrimental impact on the health and well-being of many pharmacy owners.
Community pharmacies in Northern Ireland offer the community a network of the most accessible health professionals with over 37 million visits each year (compared to 12 million visits to GP practice). Community pharmacy teams want the opportunity to use their clinical skills more to support their local communities and shift some of the pressures in the health and social care system. Many recent public awareness campaigns aim to combat winter pressures in general practice by encouraging the public to visit a pharmacy first, but what happens if their community pharmacy is no longer there? Where will the patient, especially those in rural and deprived areas go when they need to seek medical advice? As Robin Swann has pointed out, “If pharmacies are forced to close, then the removal of their services will represent a withdrawal of a vital frontline health facility.”