Chemists now operating ‘at a loss’

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One local pharmacist has revealed he is dispensing “hundreds of lines of medication at a personal loss” and argues, such is the severity of the cuts imposed by the Department of Health, many Derry chemists are operating on a “day to day basis.”

Killian Johnston, proprietor of Sweeny’s Chemist, Strand Road, said: “The Department pay us two months in arrears, so month to month we don’t know if we can pay the bills. It is stressful for everyone but it is the community pharmacies which are being hit hardest. Chains like Boots can absorb these cuts, we can’t. I would dispense items on prescription that are costing me £1 or £2 per item, hundreds of times per month. That is unsustainable.” In April 2011 the Department of Health imposed cuts of £28 million in the community pharmacies budget.

“Those cuts have left some chemists battling to stay open, Mr. Johnston said: “I personally know chemists in Belfast who have sold their cars in order to invest the money in their business in the hope of remaining open. This means people are investing their personal savings into funding the Health Service.”

Last month a judicial review of the cuts by Mr. Justice Tracey found that proper consultation was not carried out by the Department. Mr Johnston, whose business first opened in 1894, said that the review ruling has given community pharmacies “some light at the end of the tunnel, but action needs to be taken quickly.”

“We’ve had no action yet and while the Department might argue that no chemists have given notice to close, the reality is where would we work if we closed? The most important point however is that, it is the patients and the staff in chemists that are suffering due to these cuts. There have already been over 160 staff made redundant due to the actions of the Department of Health.

SDLP Health Spokesperson Mark H Durkan MLA said the reviews had cost the Department of Health a significant amount of money fighting the judicial review.