IPU warns fees dispute not over


The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has today warned that the dispute over payments and fees is not over despite last night calling on its members to resume normal services immediately.

Pharmacies across the State resumed normal business today after the IPU move, which it said was made “in the interests of patient safety”.

The union’s executive held an emergency meeting in Dublin yesterday to advise its members of the reasons for making the decision.

Speaking this morning, IPU president Liz Hoctor said she anticipated normal services would resume and added that if the HSE placed any obstacles in the way of pharmacies resuming normal services, "they will be met with a very swift response".

"At last night's meeting pharmacists were extremely angry. They're very angry at the way at the way they've been treated, they're very angry that this situation was created," she said.

"I would point out that we were asking pharmacists by the end of last week, given the absolute failure of the HSE's contingency plans, that they would ensure no patients were left without their medication," Ms Hoctor said on RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

"This is not something that the HSE was able to do, and that is why the decision was taken last night.

"This action is over, but the dispute is not over," said Ms Hoctor. The IPU chief denied her members had backed down in the row. "Absolutely not . . . the decision was taken for patient safety - and also because the Minister gave a commitment to carry out a review of the appropriateness and the impact of those cuts.

"This review should take place at the earliest possible opportunity . . . it should be done in a fair, reasonable manner. There was a dispute as to the quantity of the cut, and one of the commitments that the Minister gave is that it will be capped at €130 million. Not a penny more, not a penny less."

Asked if the 11-day disruption was necessary, Ms Proctor said the Minister had refused to recognise the impact of the cuts. "The Minister, I think, now realises that she cannot impose change without having a real and meaningful engagement with pharmacists."

She said regional meetings would be held in September and if progress had not been achieved with the Minister by then, "we will review the issue".

Speaking on the same programme, Minister for Health Mary Harney said she was "very happy" that pharmacists were returning to normal service and defended the HSE's handling of the dispute.

She said the Government had been making efforts for over three years to reduce dispensing fees to pharmacists and added the Government was not legally entitled engage in negotiations with the IPU under competition law.

Ms Harney said the HSE made clear it could never replicate community pharmacy network, and that its contingency plans were to operate on the basis that 1,150 pharmacies would honour their contracts.

The Minister said she accepted it was "never easy" to take cuts and said these would mean a "heavy adjustment" for pharmacy sector. But she said they were necessary in the current economic climate: "Those savings we have to get, and we will get.

"I'm not suggesting everyone will stay in business," Ms Harney said. "Unfortunately, there seems to be very liberal lending practices from the banks, and I understand there was over two million [euro] in some cases given to pharmacies to open a business; clearly that's not sustainable model, and taxpayers could not be expected to support it."

However, she said the review of the sector would be "robust, thorough, and honest", and that dispensing fees would be brought back to 2006 levels.

Hundreds of pharmacists had withdrawn from the State drugs schemes on August 1st in protest at cuts in fees and payments of €133 million introduced by the Government.

The HSE confirmed this evening that it is putting in place arrangements to ensure that the 470 pharmacies which had terminated their Community Pharmacy Contractor Agreement with the HSE can begin dispensing medicines under the State Drug Schemes as quickly as possible.

It said it had received requests from over 120 pharmacies in the last 48 hours, which had terminated their Community Pharmacy Contractor Agreement with the HSE, to recommence providing services under the schemes.

Mr Patrick Burke, Head of the HSE's Primary Care Reimbursement Scheme, said he welcomed the decision by pharamacies to resume normal services.

"Our priority today has been putting in place arrangements to ensure that all of the pharmacies which had terminated their contracts can begin dispensing medicines under the State Drug Schemes as quickly as possible," he said.