Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) has said that supplies of many prescription medicines could run out ‘within weeks’ without Department of Health intervention.

Amid exponential rises in wholesale prices and widespread shortages, community pharmacies told CPNI that some patients may not be able to get the medicines they need in the coming weeks.

CPNI has said that without intervention from the Department of Health, community pharmacies won’t be able to afford to pay for commonly prescribed medicines used to treat health conditions including osteoporosis, high blood pressure, insomnia, mental health and coronary conditions.

David McCrea, a community pharmacist at Dundela Pharmacy, Belfast, said that in his 30 years as community pharmacist, he had never seen such a steep rise in prices, adding that the price of some of the medicines he stocks for had risen fiftyfold.

‘It is becoming increasingly hard for us to afford to buy the medicines from wholesalers because we are not being paid the full cost of these drugs by the Department’, he said.

He added: ‘With the shortages and price increases affecting hundreds of drugs I simply cannot afford to operate under the current model. It is causing financial stress, my credit limits with wholesalers are being breached, and it is simply unsustainable.

‘First and foremost, we must now be paid properly for the cost of these medicines by the Department. The bottom line is that we are now facing the situation where we will not be able to afford to supply our patients with essential medicines, within weeks.’

Gerard Green, chief executive of CPNI, said that the situation required ‘an immediate response’ from the Department of Health.

He said that the problem of rising costs was exacerbated by an increase in patient numbers and the ‘hours every day’ that pharmacists spend sourcing medicines ‘when they could be using their clinical skills to directly support their patients.’

He said that the threat to supply could impact patient safety, and that CPNI had a responsibility to warn people of the risk to supplies of many medicines and ‘to ask the public to understand that pharmacies are doing their best under impossible circumstances’.

Community pharmacies regularly paid suppliers more for medicines than they got back from the Department of Health, he added, and called for a reform of the Drug Tarriff and the community pharmacy funding contract, as well as an immediate injection of funding.

The Department of Health said the situation had been discussed at a meeting between the health minister and CPNI last week, when the Department had spelt out ‘the scale of the unprecedented budgetary pressures and uncertainty currently facing the Department were spelt out’.

It added: ‘Notwithstanding these pressures, Community Pharmacy NI were informed that a support package for their sector was being finalised. This package includes immediate interventions worth over £5.3m in value, plus a commitment to progress wider reform arrangements in collaboration with CPNI.

‘It is therefore somewhat surprising to see CPNI publicly demanding a package which it already knows is on the way.’

It also said that local and national ‘tried and trusted mitigation arrangements’ were in place for dealing with supply distributions to ensure that patients could continue to access medication.

Community pharmacists across England have also reported soaring wholesale prices for some drugs, increased time spent sourcing medications, and inadequate reimbursement from the Department of Health and Social Care, calling for reform to the price concessions system.