Simon Harris: Primary care services not meeting public's needs

Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday said Ireland must be “unapologetic” in our commitment to rolling out greater primary care in our communities, in order enhance public health and ease the current burden faced by the acute care sector.

The minister for health was speaking at the launch of the first patient charter from the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, which took place at the PSI headquarters in Dublin 2. 

The new charter aims to provide the public with a broader understanding of the role of community pharmacists, and what information and services can be provided when they visit their local chemist.

Speaking at the launch, Mr Harris said: “Community pharmacists are at the heart of our primary care system. It’s important to note that 95% of all our healthcare needs can be met in the community.” 

Speaking afterwards, the health minister said current primary care services are not meeting the needs of the public.

“We have to be unapologetic in our desire as a country to move to primary care,” he said. 

“The reality of the situation today is that far too many people are finding themselves in or acute hospitals because, quite frankly, they don’t have the developed primary care centres in the community.” 

Mr Harris said a number of steps are required in order to roll out greater primary care, including new contracts for GPs.

“Over the last number of years we’ve seen a significant roll-out of primary care centres, roughly one a month during the lifetime of the last government,” he said. 

“We now need to move on to the next building blocks. That includes a new GP contract, looking at what services can be provided in the community and how we resource them.” 

The minister announced he will be holding a stakeholder conference on primary care in October. 

“What I want to do is have a discussion about what enhanced role our pharmacists can play in the community, our GPs, our public health nurses. I think for that to happen it’s important we bring all the care professionals together,” he said.

While passionate about primary care, Mr Harris acknowledged that he was not the first health minister to focus on the issue.

“I’m constantly aware when I talk about primary care that the minister for health in 1987 was talking about a decisive shift towards primary care – when I was one. 

"So, clearly, we have been talking about this for quite a while.” 

While the emphasis at yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) launch was on the positive role pharmacists play in the community, the PSI also handles complaints received from members of the public.

Ann Frankish, president of the PSI, announced that the number of complaints about pharmacists received by the PSI in 2015 dropped significantly from those in 2014.

A total of 27 formal complaints were received last year, compared with 51 complaints in 2014. 

As in previous years, the majority of these complaints were from patients, with dispensing errors the most common category of complaint, followed by behaviour or professionalism issues.

As well as receiving official complaints, the annual report also outlines that 90 expressions of concern were raised with the regulator, a 19% decrease on 2014.


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