SDLP health spokesperson Mark H Durkan has said proposed cuts to pharmacy services here would have a disastrous impact on the provision of frontline health care to many people across the north.
The Foyle MLA was speaking after Community Pharmacy NI (CPNI) called on the health minister to withdraw proposals to axe £38m from its budget next year.
Mr Durkan said: “The plans to reduce the amount spent on pharmacies by one third over the next year is a bad move and one that will have a direct impact on frontline health provision.
“The local pharmacy is for many people the first port of call when they have ailments, in fact it’s the only port of call for so many, taking a huge burden of strain off our already under pressure surgeries and hospitals.
“I have met with Gerard Greene from CPNI and agreed with his assessment of what could happen should these proposals be implemented.
“CPNI has told the department that it can make savings of £20million this year, with further savings to be made after that, that could go some way to offset the £38million the department is looking to cut.
“I have grave concerns over what criteria will be used to implement any proposed closures.
“If made on a purely financial basis, then a rural pharmacy, which might be the only one in a particular area, could be at risk as opposed to one on an urban high street with many pharmacies nearby.
“There are certainly other ways to look at the service without a slash and burn policy. Pharmacies play a very important role in the community.
“We should be looking at ways to maximize their use, not reducing it.
“For instance, the minor ailment scheme a few years ago was a financial and practical success.
“The department should be focusing on creative ideas, and not simply cutting services.”