Pharmacists in Northern Ireland have blasted the Department of Health’s (DH) £4.54 million investment into practice pharmacy for ignoring the country’s community pharmacy funding crisis.
The funding into the practice based pharmacist scheme comes as part of a £8.8 million DH investment into GP services in Northern Ireland.
Gerard Greene, chief executive of Community Pharmacy NI (CPNI) said: ‘While investment into primary care is welcomed, this is the wrong investment, at the wrong time, to the wrong part of the health service.’
He added: ‘The Department are acutely aware of the crisis in Community Pharmacy and are choosing to ignore our repeated calls for urgent emergency investment.’
A DH spokesperson said: ‘The investment in GP services is in line with previous contractual commitments and the direction set previously by Ministers. The funding will help address the immediate pressures facing GP Practices and support improvements to gain optimal outcomes from medicines for patients, in line with policy aims.
‘Resources are not being removed from community pharmacy to support GP services and the Department remains committed to the development of new contractual arrangements for community pharmacy within an appropriate financial envelope.’
Mr Greene acknowledged the pressure on ‘overstretched’ GP practices, but said that community pharmacy ‘has to be prioritised’. He said: ‘To direct investment elsewhere in primary care at this time defies logic.’
Portglenone contractor Eoghan O’Brien said he welcomed the practice pharmacy initiative, but warned that continued funding cuts in community pharmacy are forcing closures with 'devastating effects in the longer term'.
‘The risk is that community pharmacies then have to close. There’s the inconvenience to patients who then have to travel much further to access the community pharmacy. It’s the contact with health professionals that makes the biggest difference to somebody’s health.’
'Cracks are showing'
Mr O’Brien added: 'What it looks like is that money has been reduced from community pharmacy to put into practice pharmacy and that doesn’t look good.'
Siobhan McNulty, a pharmacist in rural Fermanagh, said the investment was ‘a bad thing for community pharmacy’. She added there has been ‘no investment in community pharmacy and cracks are showing in the service being provided’.
The practice pharmacy cash boost comes at a time when cuts to community pharmacy have driven a £20m shortfall in community pharmacy, as identified by PricewaterhouseCoopers last year.
CPNI, which represents over 530 pharmacies in Northern Ireland, said that community pharmacies need Government action and greater investment to continue to offer unrestricted access to patients, aiding in the prevention and management of long term health conditions.