Pharmacies face closure because of shortage of qualified staff , IPU says

Industry calls for more third-level places and reduction of needless paperwork

Pharmacies across the State face closure because they cannot recruit qualified pharmacists, according to their industry body. And the shortfall will also threaten their ability to deliver a Covid vaccine booster programme this coming winter.

A survey of 1,000 pharmacists conducted by the Irish Pharmacy Union shows it is now taking an average of five months to fill vacant positions in chemists. A third of vacant positions take between six and 12 months to fill with the impact most severe on rural pharmacies.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the IPU on Saturday, president Dermot Twomey will tell delegates that time is running short to find a solution to problems in the sector.

“With a growing and ageing population, we estimate there is a significant shortfall of pharmacists working in the sector,” he says.

“The impact of this shortage is increasingly apparent and pharmacies, the majority of which are small, family-owned businesses, are struggling to keep their doors open.”

Mr Twomey says that a chronic lack of places in Irish universities for pharmacists is one of the main causes of this shortfall. He said the survey showed that about half of pharmacists working in the State had qualified in Ireland.

“It is unacceptable in 2022 that a modern healthcare system must rely upon outsourcing education to other countries,” he said.

Crisis point

Mr Twomey said the sector had been campaigning for more third-level places in Ireland, including the establishment of an additional school of pharmacy and a graduate pharmacy programme.

“It has now reached a crisis point and action needs to be swift,” he said. “More immediately, we must make it as easy as possible for pharmacists from non-EU countries to relocate and work in Ireland.”

The IPU has been waiting for months for a response to its call to list community pharmacists on the State’s critical skills occupations list, which would allow pharmacies to recruit outside the European Union.

A third concern is what pharmacists say is needless red tape, paper-based bureaucracy and administration that takes up an inordinate amount of time.

“The average pharmacist wastes a significant amount of time each working day on form-filling such as doing paperwork for community drug schemes. These activities add nothing to patient care or clinical safety,” he said.

“It is the bane of every pharmacist’s existence and could be easily solved.”

No- one was contesting the need to keep patients safe, he said, but more paperwork needs to move online and there needs to be a reassessment of what is actually necessary.

“The Government needs to get serious about addressing this problem and to take immediate steps to increase the number of graduates, reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and ensure a steady flow of pharmacists from outside the country,” Mr Twomey said.

“The alternative will be a sector that remains in crisis with the resultant impact on patient services, patient safety and the threat of pharmacy closures.”