Patient & Advocacy groups demand answers from Department of Health over crisis in community pharmacy

An urgent meeting was held in Belfast recently between representatives of community pharmacy and patient and advocacy groups, over the deepening crisis in the community pharmacy network.

Patient groups are now demanding answers from the Department as to why the shortfall is not met and have serious concerns that it is impacting negatively on patients who are having to wait longer on the medicines they need.

The crisis in community pharmacy has been growing for a number of years due to contract that is outdated, meaning pharmacists are now regularly dispensing medicines at a loss.

Community pharmacists have acted to update patient group representatives on the worsening situation as it will lead to a direct impact on patients through the availability of drugs and services.

David Galloway, Northern Ireland Director of the MS Society said:

“What we have heard today from CPNI is hugely concerning for us and those patients we represent. People living with long term conditions such as MS will suffer if there is a shortage of medicines or pharmacies cannot provide the drugs they need daily.

“Patients rely on pharmacists to not only dispense drugs but also to advise them on how to take medicine appropriately and answer any questions they have around managing their medication.

“Of course, you don’t need an appointment to access pharmacy which gives great peace of mind, particularly with patients who suffer from long-term chronic conditions and take a lot of different types of medication.

“We urgently need the Department to recognise that the growing pressures on community pharmacy pose a significant risk to patient safety.”

Clare-Anne Magee, Head of Carers NI added:

“Carers need pharmacists to not only dispense drugs for the person they’re looking after but are also a source of support and information for those at any stage of their caring journeys.

“For many carers, community pharmacies are a lifeline and may in fact be the only point of contact that they have outside of the home across the course of a week. Such is the personable relationship many community pharmacists have with carers, that they are able to identify, support and signpost carers to appropriate local services.

“The huge pressures community pharmacies are facing here are deeply worrying.”

The supply of medicines is a patient issue that has already come to light with the ongoing Epi-Pen shortage that has been described by Community Pharmacy NI Chief Gerard Greene as only “the tip of the iceberg”.

Speaking at the  briefing, CEO of Community Pharmacy NI Gerard Greene commented:

“We have been lobbying the Department of Health for a viable contract for community pharmacy. At the moment the reality is that community pharmacists are dispensing medicines at a loss, meaning business models are unsustainable.

“Today we are alerting patient group representatives to the situation as it stands and warning them of the potential impacts that will follow for patients.

“There is a real threat that the continued under funding by the Department of Health will result in supply issues, medicine shortages and at the worse end of the spectrum, pharmacies closing.

“Our members have a responsibility to ensure that we help patients stay well and prevent illness where we can. This is becoming more difficult as the crisis deepens.”

Those patient and advocacy groups in attendance were:

• Carers NI
• Stroke Association
• MS Society
• Diabetes NI
• Age Sector Platform

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