Community pharmacists 'in crisis' as many forced to use own savings to ensure medicine supply

Many pharmacists in Northern Ireland are having to dip into their own savings and pensions to ensure the supply of medicines.

Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland is warning that medicine supply could be at risk if urgent funding isn't put in place by the Department of Health.

The Department funds community pharmacies across the country but many report that their costs aren't being covered.

Owner of Dundela Pharmacy on the Belmont Road in east Belfast, David McCrea, told UTV in his 30 years of running the business, the last year has been the worst.

"We have to buy in the drugs, that's a cost to us and when we dispense them the Department reimburse us but the price that they're paying us doesn't cover the cost of the drugs in a lot of cases.

"It's not sustainable and that is why we've reached this crisis point. There are pharmacists who are struggling to pay their wholesale bills and they're having to put in their own money to cover their costs to pay their bills and pay their staff.

"The bottom line is if we can't pay our wholesalers, the supply of medicines will stop."

Representatives from Community Pharmacy NI brought their concerns before Stormont's Health Committee on Thursday.

Chief Executive of CPNI, Gerard Greene, told the committee: "The risks are such that the ability of community pharmacies to maintain its very basic function of the supply of medicines to the public can no longer be assumed.

"Without further intervention, which is what we are seeking your support in, the community pharmacy funding deficit will widen further."

In a statement, the Department of Health said it "recognises the fundamental role that Community Pharmacies have been carrying out".

It added: "The Department remains committed to working with CPNI on commissioning arrangements within the existing Ministerial mandate and financial envelope. However, it is important to emphasise that the Department is facing a significant funding gap to maintain existing services, with the HSC continuing to face an extremely unpredictable and volatile position.

"Despite these challenges, the Department has provided additional in year investment to support community pharmacy worth £14.9m, including a suspension of discount clawback in November 2023 worth £4.8m, plus investment in February 2024 of £6.1m relating to inflationary pressures and £4m associated with service pressures related to medicines adherence services.

"The Department has also provided CPNI with a commitment to undertake a review of financial framework for community pharmacy services, considering the position elsewhere in the UK and affordability within the NI context.

"The Department remains keen to continue to have a collaborative relationship with CPNI, based on realistic expectations around what we can commission and fund, and to do this through open and honest dialogue, as we have done to date."

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