Northern Irish community pharmacy services lag behind those in the rest of the UK, a parliamentary pharmacy group has heard.

Speaking to All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) chair Sir Kevin Barron yesterday (31 October), Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) chief executive Gerard Greene said that a lack of resources have resulted in some pharmacy services across Northern Ireland lagging 10 years behind their Welsh, English and Scottish counterparts.

A Department of Health (DH) spokesman said that CPNI has been developing proposals – which include improving patient access to pharmacy interventions, promoting greater use of pharmaceutical expertise and providing a greater opportunity for working with other professional groups – for pharmacy to 'support the health service transformation'. 

He told The Pharmacist: 'Community pharmacies within Northern Ireland are already commissioned to provide a comprehensive range of patient services for the health service in Northern Ireland and it is wrong to suggest that nothing is being done to develop those services.'


‘Patients deprived of services’


Mr Greene said that patients in Northern Ireland have been deprived of the same services available in the three other UK countries for years.

He told Sir Kevin: ‘Scotland and Wales provide us with excellent examples of what innovation and development looks like and the impact it can have on improving patient outcomes, reacting to shifting demands and delivering efficiencies.

‘The healthcare system in Northern Ireland needs radical change and key to this is giving community pharmacy a more proactive role in public health and in the prevention and management of long-term conditions.’

In Scotland and Wales, pharmacists are encouraged to train to become independent prescribers in order to increase access to pharmacy as the first port of call for self-limiting conditions. Mr Greene argued that the idea of pharmacists prescribing autonomously for any condition within their competence has not ‘even been considered’ in Northern Ireland.


Funding issue


According to CPNI, the DH removed an estimated £20m from the community pharmacy funding package in 2017/18. This included £3.6m in propriety mitigation, £400k in rural access support and £16m in category M drug tariff adjustments.

Mr Greene said that the population’s changing needs cannot be met when there are ‘huge funding problems in the background’.

He continued: ‘We are light years behind in terms of patient services and the fact that the community pharmacy network in Northern Ireland has been plunged into financial uncertainty since 2011/12 has had a detrimental impact for everyone.

‘The £20m per annum funding gap and the DH’s reticence to deal with it means that we are regressing.’