All 1,600 pharmacists, members of the Irish Pharmacy Union, have been called to discuss a controversial payment system for pharmacies.
Hundreds of pharmacies are expected to shut their doors and as medicines can only be dispensed in the presence of a qualified pharmacist, patients may find difficulty in having their prescriptions filled.
Effectively a one-day stoppage, the action follows HSE plans to cut the margin paid to pharmaceutical wholesalers and save €1.1 billion. It is speculated pharmacists may take legal action against the HSE on the basis it allegedly breached their individual contracts. The HSE paid out more than €600 million to pharmaceutical wholesalers and retail pharmacists last year, according to figures released last Friday. The HSE paid out more than €1.13bn to pharmaceutical manufacturers for drugs provided to patients under state schemes. Wholesalers received more than €200m while pharmacists received €237m in fees and a further €130m in mark-ups.
Union president Michael Guckian said the HSE statistic showed the total fees and margins earned by pharmacists amounted to €367m. He said the HSE decision, effective from March 1, represented a cut of about 30%.
“If the HSE forces its cuts on pharmacists we can expect many pharmacies to close over time across the country,” he said.
Mr Guckian said the average payment to a pharmacy last year was in excess of €200,000, out of which the pharmacist must cover salaries and overheads. Last year, according to the HSE figures, 86 pharmacies received fees in excess of €400,000, 120 received between €400,000 and €500,000 while 226 received between €300,000 and €400,000.