PHARMACISTS have warned the Government a row over plans to refuse to dispense drugs to medical card holders could flare up again because of the slow progress of talks with the Health Service Executive.
The Irish Pharmacy Union said the community drugs scheme could be at risk again if the HSE fails to deliver on commitments it gave to the profession’s representative body last month.
About 1,000 pharmacists called off plans to withdraw from dispensing certain drugs on May 1 in protest at the HSE’s proposals to cut reimbursement payments to pharmacies for handling prescriptions under the medical card and drugs subsidy schemes.
Both sides agreed to the recommendation of a High Court judge to enter court-supervised mediation. IPU president Liz Hoctor, said the HSE should not presume the threat by her members to withdraw from the drugs scheme had disappeared.
Speaking at the AGM of the IPU in Enfield, Co Meath, yesterday, Ms Hoctor remarked: “Pharmacy remains in crisis.”
Ms Hoctor said the key issue which sparked the controversy — the HSE’s unilateral decision to cut payments to pharmacists — remained unresolved.
“This should be a time for restoring trust and there is a need to develop a good working relationship between the HSE and the union. If this does not happen, further conflict is inevitable,” said Ms Hoctor.
The HSE has made a commitment to resolve the issue by the end of the month and both sides are due back before the High Court on May 26.
The conference also heard the controversy had resulted in pharmacy students being unable to secure one-year work placements which they require to be allowed commence professional practice.
“Due to HSE cuts in payments on the community drugs schemes, pharmacists are letting staff go rather than taking on additional staff,” said pharmacist, Diarmuid O’Donovan from Ballyphehane, Cork.
The IPU claims more than half of final-year pharmacy students have still not managed to secure a work placement this year.
Motions were passed at the meeting condemning the actions of the HSE and calling on the health authorities to establish clear lines of responsibility in dealing with pharmacies.
The IPU conference also heard calls for changes to the Competition Act, amid claims it was acting as a barrier to the HSE negotiating fees for pharmacists, dentists and GPs. Pharmacists called on the Government to amend the legislation to remove any ambiguity governing such talks in future.
They also demanded legislation to enable pharmacies to dispense cheaper generic drugs that could save the exchequer more than €30 million a year.
The price of medicines in the republic is governed by an agreement between the HSE and pharmaceutical companies.
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