Community pharmacists in Northern Ireland have voted to begin industrial action because of contractual and patient safety issues.
The decision was made by pharmacists after reaching ‘breaking point’ following ‘major concerns’ surrounding patient safety and the ongoing supply of medicines as a result of ‘insurmountable funding pressures’.
They also reported a workforce crisis in the sector due to a shortage of pharmacists and locums.
At a closed meeting of community pharmacy contractors on Monday (24 February), 98% of attendees representing 418 pharmacies across Northern Ireland voted for action.
The details on what form of action community pharmacists will take will be decided in the coming weeks, with many claiming that the severity of the situation will force them into actions that they have never previously taken.
Health minister Robin Swann last night described the planned action as ‘regrettable and surprising’ and urged the organisation representing contractors, Community Pharmacy NI, to ‘reconsider their plans’, the BBC reports.
Community pharmacy contractor, Loretto McManus, spoke of the importance of maintaining pharmacists’ health and mental wellbeing in order to protect the wider community.
‘Dispensing medicine is a role that is critical in maintaining the health of all the patients in our communities.
‘It requires focus and attention to detail. We have reached a point where we are now working excessive hours and the pharmacist’s health and mental well-being is compromised due to the unrelenting pressures, then we have serious concerns for patient safety that need to be put right immediately.’
Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI), Gerard Greene, said: ‘We have been warning the Department [of Health] for years of this growing crisis.
‘A litany of unresolved issues stemming from sustained underfunding now means that community pharmacists have reached breaking point.
‘The decision to take action is not one reached lightly and we regret that the refusal of the Department [of health] to address this crisis has brought us to this, but our network is at the point where the safe delivery of crucial frontline services for patients could be compromised.’