Claim that almost 5,000 job losses expected in pharmacies if changes pursued without agreement
Over 300 pharmacies across the country could close as a result of HSE (Health Service Executive) plans to push through reductions in payments to pharmacists for providing medicines to patients on the community drugs schemes. This is according to results of a major survey of pharmacists, which was presented today by the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.
Speaking today at the Oireachtas Committee, Michael Guckian, President of the IPUsaid the survey highlighted the extent of the crisis now threatening the sector; “if the HSE is allowed to force through these proposals, hundreds of pharmacies will close, thousands of jobs will be lost and patient care will suffer.”
According to Guckian, the HSE is abusing its position, as the dominant customer of independent pharmacies, to push through changes without agreement. Guckian called for an independent body to be established to review the current situation and to make recommendations on appropriate payment for pharmacists.
Key findings of the survey, which was completed by over 700 pharmacists across the country, include:
Over 20% of respondents feared that implementation of the HSE proposals could result in the permanent closure of their pharmacy.
55% of respondents said that they would have to reduce opening hours if the proposals are implemented.
89% of respondents indicated that they would have to let staff go with an estimated 2,500 jobs being lost across the pharmacy sector. This figure amounts to almost 5,000 when pharmacy closures are accounted for.
87% of respondents indicated that waiting times for customers were likely to increase due to reduced staffing levels.
The survey was undertaken against a background of increasing fears amongst pharmacists at the threatened imposition of a new contract between the HSE and independent pharmacists, which has not been discussed or agreed with the Union.
At the nub of the issue is the proposal by the HSE to reduce the payments made to pharmacists on the community drugs schemes – even where the new payment to pharmacists would be less than what it costs the pharmacist to purchase the medication from their suppliers – effectively destroying the economic basis of the business.
In the survey, 58% of pharmacists who currently provide screening services for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol said that they would have to discontinue such services; 80% said they would be forced to discontinue the provision of special medication packs for patients, who have difficulty taking their medicines; while more than two-thirds said that they would have to discontinue out of hours services.
Ross Hattaway, manager of the corporate pharmaceutical unit of the HSE, told the Irish Times last month that pharmacists' income would fall because the HSE is determined to stop paying fees to pharmacists based on the price of items dispensed - on some schemes pharmacists are paid a 50% mark-up - and because the price of drugs being dispensed will fall following an agreement between the HSE and drug manufacturers.
He also said that if some pharmacists get into financial difficulty it would be because they have "overextended themselves" by buying overpriced businesses or by agreeing to pay very high rents in new shopping complexes. "We want to separate income from commodity price - we will pay a professional fee for a professional service," Hattaway said.
He said pharmacists' incomes have been rising because they have been linked to the price of drugs which has been "increasing exponentially".
The HSE is trying to reduce an escalating drugs bill - up from €332 million in 1997 to €1.5 billion in 2006. It says it can save €100 million per year by introducing reduced reimbursement rates for pharmacists. These reduced rates were originally due to be introduced on December 1st.