IPU claims 'widespread' problems


Pharmacists have reported “widespread” problems for patients today as they sought to have prescriptions filled under a HSE contingency plan to deal with the withdrawal of hundreds of pharmacists from State schemes.

The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) said there were “major problems” today in Mayo, Donegal, Carlow, Waterford, north Dublin, Wexford, Kerry, Offaly, Clare and Galway.

In response, the HSE said its temporary dispensing facilities were “busy but manageable” over the course of the day.

Hundreds of pharmacists have withdrawn from operating the State drug schemes, including the medical card and long-term illness schemes, in protest at the Government's decision to cut fees by €133 million over a full year. Up to a dozen temporary dispensing centres have been established by the HSE to help fill the shortfall in supply caused by the pharmacists’ action.

But the IPU claimed today the contingency measures are inadequate, that many patients are facing delays of up to eight hours to have prescriptions filled and that the HSE pharmacies do not have some medications in stock.

It said, in addition, the contingency dispensaries were "refusing to fill prescriptions from patients outside their immediate areas".

In a statement this afternoon, chairman of the IPU contractors' committee, John Corr, said the HSE was "desperately trying to play catch up but they do not realise the magnitude of the problems they are facing".

He said some pharmacies in Drogheda were only open for emergencies for limited periods but most pharmacies were reported not to be dispensing under drugs schemes.  Just two were pharmacies reported to be dispensing under schemes in Dundalk, while there were none open in Ardee and Dunleer, Mr Corr said.

In Newbridge, Co Kildare, two pharmacies were reported to be under extreme pressure with six- to eight-hour delays reported by many patients, he added.

Earlier, IPU president Liz Hoctor said a pharmacist in Kerry who checked the prescriptions dispensed to 11 of his patients by the HSE dispensary found eight of them had been filled incorrectly. “Another pharmacist in Limerick was refused permission to collect medicines on behalf of his patients.”

Ms Hoctor said there were reports of people in Kerry and Donegal being refused service. "They are being informed that they should go to a particular pharmacy. But more often than not that pharmacy is not open or is no longer dispensing under the community drug schemes."

Ms Hoctor claimed the HSE has advised wholesalers “not to supply high-tech drugs to pharmacists who have withdrawn from the community drug schemes”.

“Together with their totally inadequate contingency plans these actions by the HSE show the scant regard they have for the care and well being of patients all over the country.” Ms Hoctor said the HSE and Minister for Health Mary Harney should respond to calls by patient-representative groups to have a mediator appointed.

The HSE said this evening its dispensaries represent “a very small fraction” of the options that are available to patients and clients across the country. Head of the HSE’s Primary Care Reimbursement Scheme Patrick Burke said three quarters of pharmacies are continuing to dispense prescriptions under the State Drugs Schemes.

Mr Burke said that in general people living in urban centres had “no problem” getting medication.

“Unfortunately the most vulnerable people in small isolated communities are being targeted by a minority of pharmacists who were causing undue worry to their own patients and clients in a concerted campaign in an attempt to force a Government decision to be reversed,” he said.

“There is no getting away from the fact that the responsibility for the inconvenience being suffered by patients and clients rests completely with a small minority of pharmacists. Nobody else,” he said. “This action is about money. It has nothing to do with patient care.”

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly called on both sides to “scale back their quarrel in the interests of patients”.

He said his party supported the right of Minister for Health Mary Harney to seek value for money for taxpayers and consumers but had "grave reservations about her methodology, which is particularly confrontational”.

Dr Reilly called on Taoiseach Brian Cowen to appoint a mediator, “particularly given that there is a dispute over the facts, with the IPU claiming a 34 per cent cut [in fees] and Minister Harney claiming a 24 per cent cut”.