MLA blasts treatment of community pharmacies

Copyright Kevin Cooper Photoline: SDLP Conference Friday, 4th to Sunday 6th November 2011 at the Ramada Hotel, Shaw's Bridge, Belfast.
Copyright Kevin Cooper Photoline: SDLP Conference Friday, 4th to Sunday 6th November 2011 at the Ramada Hotel, Shaw's Bridge, Belfast.

SDLP spokesperson for Health and Foyle MLA Mark H. Durkan has lambasted the “shocking” attitude of Health Minister Edwin Poots toward Community Pharmacies.”

The Foyle MLA was speaking after recent claims local chemists were investing heavily in their businesses despite the fact their pharmacies were making a loss. Some business owners in Belfast are reported to have sold their cars to cover business costs. Last April the Health Minister Edwin Poots imposed cuts of £28 million - 30% of the entire budget - on the community pharmacy sector. Last month a judicial review ruled that these cuts were made without the sufficient and required consultation.

Describing the crisis in the sector as a “departmental failure,” Mr. Durkan said: “Pharmacies have struggled to provide the same high level of service due to the financial burden and resulting staff cuts forced on them by these departmental cuts. These cuts have been found to be unjust by a judicial review. the second such finding in two years.”

Mr Durkan beleives “the link provided by community pharmacies is vital to health care provision.” In order to highlight public opposition to the budget reduction, the SDLP delivered a petition, containing 105,000 signatures, to the Minister in December which the party says is, “indicitive of the support of the public.”

Mr Durkan added: “The cuts make even less sense when one considers that the Compton Review called for an enhanced role for community pharmacies. I would fully support their enhanced role in the prevention and treatment of minor ailments and conditions. That development would free up more consultation time and beds in hospitals. The Health Service is interlinked and these cuts will have a knock on effect on the entire system. However to have an enhanced role they need enhanced funding. At the moment further investment is required simply in order to bring service levels up to early 2011 levels.”

With front line health services now being impacted, despite claims to the contrary during the budget debate, Mr. Durkan said: “We never denied or doubted that front line health services would be hit by these cuts. That is why we voted against the budget and proposed some income generating proposals. Can any of those politicians or parties who said front line services would not be affected by the budget, say this is not now the case? They are living in cloud cuckoo land if they think so. We take no pleasure in that stance. This is a shocking state of affairs but it is indicitive of the way this executive is run.”

Asked to comment on reports that Pharmacists are investing their own money, according to one local pharmacist, “to subsidise the health service,” Mr. Durkan MLA said: “The Health Minister is dismissive of these reports of hardship. We have private individuals ploughing money into the service, yet the department is dismissive without looking at the effect the closure of these businesses will have on the communities they serve. I think the actions pharmacists are taking display their underlaying commitment to deliver health care to the public.”

The SDLP health spokesperson said: “In order to avoid this the community pharmacy sector should be better represented on the Health Committee. This is evident from the fact that they have made two huge mistakes in as many years. There is also a need for the Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland umbrella group, the department and drugs companies to sit down and discuss a better way forward. A better way economically, a better way for our struggling pharmacists but most of all a better way for patients across Northern Ireland. They are the ones facing the worst effects of these cuts.”