The pharmacy funding crisis in Northern Ireland has left some pharmacists unable to pay their medicines bills, wholesalers have warned.

Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) reported today (12 November) that several wholesalers wrote to the Department of Health (DH), warning that medicines supplies to patients ‘will grind to a halt’ due to pharmacies’ credit problems.


Unable to meet credit terms


A letter from a wholesaler to the DH dated last month, seen by The Pharmacist, revealed that some Northern Irish pharmacists had been unable to pay their wholesaling credit in the previous six months due funding pressures.

In the letter, the wholesaler added that medicine supply to patients will ‘grind to a halt’ as the whole supply chain relies on the credit worthiness of pharmacies.

According to CPNI, the DH removed an estimated £20m from the community pharmacy funding package in 2017/18.


‘The DH cannot spend money it doesn’t have’


The DH said that it is aware of the ‘well-documented pressures on the health budget’ and is ‘actively working’ with the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) to finalise ongoing discussions and ‘establish new contractual arrangements for community pharmacy in Northern Ireland’.

A DH spokesperson told The Pharmacist: ‘The DH and the HSCB are committed to finding a way forward with community pharmacy representatives to develop sustainable funding for community pharmacy services in Northern Ireland that supports improved patient outcomes.

‘There are many deserving demands being made on the health and social care budget. It always needs to be remembered that the budget is far from infinite and the DH cannot spend money it doesn’t have.’

The DH added that a funding announcement will be made ‘shortly’.


Drained resources


CPNI chief executive Gerard Greene said that many pharmacists have had to use pension funds and savings to be able to pay their suppliers and provide medicines to their patients.

He commented: ‘The sheer intransigence of the DH in resolving this situation will result in pharmacies closing and will reduce people’s access to a vital health service – impacting hugely upon patient safety.

‘Funding of at least £130m is required for a safe community pharmacy service in Northern Ireland. The DH knows that but has been wilfully ignoring this reality for some time.’