Rebel pharmacists face threat of legal action

REBEL pharmacists were warned last night they faced legal action for breaching their state contract to dispense drugs to the public.

The Health Service Executive secured a High Court order forcing 35 pharmacies to stay open and continue to dispense drugs under the community drug schemes.

The health authority moved against the Hickey Group and the Bradley Group of pharmacies claiming they were in breach of their contract for not giving 30 days’ notice of their intention to withdraw from their contract.

The injunction was granted a week into the bitter dispute that resulted in some patients having to queue into the early hours for their medicine while participating chemists complained of being overwhelmed by demand.

The two pharmacy groups operate pharmacies in counties Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Louth, Wexford and Wicklow.

Health Minister Mary Harney has given her backing for court enforcement in the dispute and insisted that cuts in fees were not up for discussion.

The Irish Pharmacy Union described the hardening of the health authority’s stance as “unhelpful” to securing a full resumption of pharmacy services.

The court action followed a call on Thursday night by IPU president Liz Hoctor to have an independent third party appointed to review the impact of pharmacies’ fees for dispensing drugs under the schemes.

Ms Hoctor said pharmacists would resume normal services if a review was agreed. But the HSE said it had gone down the legal route amid fears that patients might not be able to obtain medicines from pharmacists.

Mr Justice Garret Sheehan said he was happy to grant the interim order as the matter was of the “utmost urgency” and set next Monday for a full hearing for the case.

Just under 500 pharmacies have withdrawn or terminated their state contracts, with more than 1,100 continuing to operate under the scheme.

The head of the independent body set up to examine pharmacists’s payment, Sean Dorgan, said pharmacists must realise the payment system was “unsustainable”, with the HSE paying three times what prescription drugs cost in 2000.

Cracks began to emerge in the Government’s stance taken in the dispute yesterday with junior health minister Áine Brady saying the cuts in payments to pharmacists were too deep.

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