Pharmacies withdraw from community drug schemes


Hundreds of pharmacies have withdrawn from State community drug schemes today in a dispute over the fees they receive for dispensing medication.

Pharmacists are withdrawing from the schemes, including medical cards and the drug payment scheme, in protest at cuts in fees and payments of €133 million introduced by the Government.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has said that over 1,000 pharmacies would continue to provide services under the scheme, but it had put in place contingency plans.

It said this afternoon that some 300 pharmacies had withdrawn their termination notices to the HSE "having reconsidered their position and are now choosing to continue to provide services under the State Drug Schemes".

Customers whose usual pharmacy would no longer be participating in the schemes could take their prescription to any participating pharmacy, a spokeswoman for the HSE said.

"The HSE has received reports that a small number of participating pharmacies are refusing to fill State Drug Scheme prescriptions for new clients," said the executive in a statement this afternoon.

"Participating pharmacies who refuse to fill a State Drugs Scheme prescription are in breach of their contract with the HSE. This refusal could also raise professional practice concerns and the HSE will
be taking this matter up both with individual pharmacies and the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland as required," it added.

The HSE has put in place alternative dispensing facilities in 10 locations in counties Roscommon, Donegal, Mayo and Kerry. A further two facilities – in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim and Falcarragh, Co Donegal – are on standby.

The HSE has asked pharmacies that had chosen to withdraw from the schemes to identify to the local HSE pharmacist those patients who may require extra supports.

Laverne McGuinness, national director of the HSE’s Primary, Continuing and Community Care, said: “While we cannot fill all the gaps left by pharmacies who have chosen to terminate their agreements, we will endeavour to assist and support patients and clients to secure their medication from participating pharmacies."

But the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) claimed the contingency plans by health chiefs were totally inadequate. Liz Hoctor, IPU president said today that the number of pharmacies who had withdrawn from State schemes was far in excess of what the HSE was claiming and warned of widespread chaos new week unless urgent steps were taken to resolve the issue.

Ms. Hoctor signaled out problems in Donegal and Mayo as particularly acute.

Pharmacists in Donegal reported that the HSE were unable to deal with demand and had reverted to hiring taxis to take patients from Donegal town to Letterkenny. IPU members claimed that In north Donegal, the HSE ran a prescription collection service from GP surgeries which would be dispensed and returned to local hospitals sometime that evening.

Meanwhile in Mayo the dispensary scheduled to open in Ballina did not open at all while the one in Castlebar was experiencing lengthy delays for patients and had also carried a very poor supply of medicines, according to the IPU.
Government health chiefs maintain the cost of dispensing under the Medical Card Scheme and the Drugs Payments Scheme have doubled since 2002 to over €1.6 billion in 2008 - with fees and other income earned by pharmacists also doubling.

The Minister for Health, Mary Harney, maintained cuts to be imposed from today will cut payments to pharmacists by 24 per cent, but stressed they will continue to earn high margins on prescriptions similar to what was paid in 2006 and 2007.

But the IPU estimates the figures do not add up and that its members will be hit with an unsustainable 34 per cent cut.

The HSE said this afternoon that it had today received about 60 calls from the public in connection the withdrawal of pharmacies from the schemes.

Additional reporting PA