HSE warns of court injunctions


The HSE says it has written to a number of pharmacies warning them of possible High Court injunctions to compel them to adhere with their contracts to dispense State drugs.

The row between pharmacists and the HSE over dispensing fees has entered its fifth day since hundreds of pharmacies withdrew from State community drug schemes.

Patrick Burke, head of the HSE’s Primary Care Reimbursement Scheme, said: “Pharmacies who have an agreement with the HSE have a legal and professional duty to provide pharmaceutical services to any member of the public who is eligible for services under the State Drug Schemes.

"We are writing to those who are not meeting these fundamental obligations. If we do not receive a satisfactory response we will have no other option than to seek to enforce our legal rights on behalf of taxpayers through the courts. We will also be seeking all costs associated with this remedy," Mr Burke added.

He said it was "extremely unjust and wrong" for a pharmacy to "cherry pick" aspects of the agreement "with the sole objective of imposing the maximum inconvenience on the general public".

The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) today said there were "chaotic scenes" around the country as the "complete inadequacy of the HSE’s contingency plans became apparent". However, the HSE insisted this evening there we no reports of delays in filling prescriptions at any of its contingency sites.

The IPU said it had received reports of "long delays, poor service and lack of stock" in north Co Dublin, Waterford city, Donegal, Mayo and Kerry.

Pharmacists who work for chemist chains this afternoon expressed concerns over the "dramatic" increase in prescriptions presented due to what they said was the failure of the HSE's contingency plan.

Bernard Duggan, chairman of the Employee Pharmacists Committee, said these pharmacies do not have the resources at their disposal to deal with this. "The ability of employee pharmacists to dispense medicines in a safe and timely manner is being severely compromised," he said.  "Some of these pharmacists have stopped accepting prescriptions and closed their doors due to their unacceptable and dangerous workloads, so as to avoid a serious dispensing error occurring."

Mr Duggan cited particular difficulties in areas such as north Dublin, Kilkenny, Wexford, Kerry and Waterford.

Mr Duggan said responsibility for the "sorry mess" rested with the Minister for Health. "The cuts she has imposed have made it impossible to deliver the high quality, accessible community pharmacy service that patients deserve and expect."

The HSE insists its temporary dispensing sites have been approved by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland and are staffed by fully qualified and licensed pharmacists with a supervising/chief pharmacist working with pharmacy technicians – the same model as is operated in community pharmacies.

The IPU has called for the appointment of a mediator in the dispute, but the Government said it has no plans to do so.

Earlier today, Labour called on Minister for Health Mary Harney to intervene in the pharmacists' dispute amid claims that HSE contingency plans are inadequate.

Government sources said last night there would be no rowing back on controversial cutbacks in fees to pharmacists of up to €133 million introduced by the Minister for Health last month.

The HSE said that outside of the 500 or so pharmacies that had submitted valid termination notices to withdraw from State schemes, only a small minority of other outlets were closed. It said 75 per cent of pharmacies continued to provide services under State schemes.