Community pharmacies in Northern Ireland need an urgent government cash injection to stabilise their finances, a chemist said.
Half their turnover is being run at a loss and they are suffering supply problems with the rest of their drugs trade, one pharmacist warned
The chief executive of Community Pharmacy NI, Gerard Greene, claimed £20 million underfunding of community pharmacy by the Department of Health had left the industry in a critical state and was placing immense strain on many pharmacists.
He said: “Community pharmacy is a safety net for the health service in the community.
“That safety net is being stretched and tested.”
Up to £30 million has been earmarked for reforming community and hospital services, including mental health and pharmacy, as part of the DUP’s confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives.
Pharmacies dispense £400 million of medicines every year.
Half is branded medicines, which have been sold at a loss for the last six years – they are costing more than the Government is reimbursing them for the drugs, Mr Greene said.
He added: “It is just indicative of the shortfall in the funding, the minus figures have become really pressing.”
The other £200 million involves generic medicines and prices have “sky rocketed” in the past six months, Mr Greene added, while official funding has reduced.
He said: “In many cases pharmacists are struggling to meet the supply which they need for the prescriptions for patients, cannot get the drugs from wholesalers, cannot get the drugs from suppliers simply because of availability problems.
“But when they do come in, the prices are much higher than what the drug tariff is paying.”
Afterwards, they subsequently receive a concessionary payment.
The health spokesmen of the main political parties in Northern Ireland have highlighted the problems with community pharmacy in a letter to the permanent secretary of the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly.
Mr Greene said pharmacies were ideally placed to do more in the community, preventing ill-health and managing care.
“Patients on a day-by-day basis are finding it increasingly difficult to get into GPs’ clinics.
“They are finding it difficult to get an appointment and so-forth.
“Where the community pharmacy can do more to alleviate pressure on GP services, it makes patient interaction with the health service much better.”