The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) agreed last night to accept an interim compromise deal pending a review of the system by an independent group.
Up to 1,000 community pharmacists had threatened to refuse to fill prescriptions for medical card patients or to dispense subsidised medicines under the drugs payment, long-term illness and hi-tech drugs schemes from this morning. They are in dispute with the HSE after it imposed price reductions on drugs wholesalers which the pharmacists say have not been passed on to them.
They claim they are buying from wholesalers at higher prices than the HSE is reimbursing them for.
The HSE yesterday offered a deal that maintains the price cuts, but makes a number of promises including an exemption for drugs that must be refrigerated or kept in safes. These are fragile, powerful or high-price drugs which are costly to manage.
The exemption applies pending a review of the entire pricing system by a group headed by former Industrial Development Authority head Seán Dorgan who is to report back by the end of this month.
Further negotiations with the IPU on all matters arising from the dispute are also promised and the HSE has also agreed to expedite talks on separate disputes over the methadone treatment scheme, national pay hikes and the implementation of the over 70s medical card.
IPU president Michael Guckian described the developments as “significant” and said he was recommending that pharmacists continue to dispense medicines as normal today.
The IPU is also proceeding with a High Court challenge to the HSE’s actions which is to be heard on July 22.
However, a HSE court bid to secure injunctions preventing pharmacists withdrawing their services, due to be heard today, is likely to be withdrawn.
The planned action by pharmacists was averted amid pleas from patient groups and after Health Minister Mary Harney said she believed the work being carried out by Sean Dorgan’s group should give comfort to both sides.