Mullingar pharmacies face closure and job cuts

A loss of more than 30 jobs, and even closures are the only options facing Mullingar pharmacists if the HSE persist in implenting a 34 percent payment cut it has emerged.Local pharmacists have spoken out regarding the HSE"s intention to cut their payments by 34 percent for providing medicines and advice to patients under the community drugs schemes.They say if the HSE goes ahead with implementing the cuts, they will have no option but to cease all state dispensing as of August 1.Over 1,000 individual pharmacists wrote to the Health Service Executive (HSE) giving 30 days notice of their intention to discontinue providing services on the community drugs schemes. This means that to date effectively two thirds of all pharmacies across the country will cease dispensing medicines on behalf of the HSE under the Medical Card Scheme and the Drugs Payments Scheme effective from 1st August next.Local Pharmacist John Keane of the Market Point Pharmacy in Mullingar said it is like something out of the Soviet Union the way the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney TD refuses to talk to pharmacists or engage in any contact with their union, the IPU.'I do not wish to worry my staff but I will have to, without a shadow of a doubt, let staff go if the cuts go ahead, that is if I manage to stay in business myself,' explained John Keane.'Both myself and my staff have worked hard to provide a service that is highly valued by both my patients and local health professionals. The meagre profit I had hoped on making next near will now be completely wiped out by the HSE cuts,' he continued.'The 1st August is fast approaching and Mary Harney hasn"t spoken to us at all or even engaged with our union, there have been no negociations. She has literally dictated what"s going to happen, it"s like something out of the Soviet Union the way she is carrying on.'These cuts will mean at least 30 local jobs will be lost across the nine pharmacies in Mullingar and the possible closure of some. Mullingar is quickly turning into a ghost town with business" closing each week. The government have already looked at reducing Gardai stations, post offices, now they are talking about closing our A&E department, if these cuts are implemented pharmacy"s will be next,' he said.Niall Weir of Weirs Pharmacy on Pearse Street said after meeting with local pharmacists this week, everyone is comepletely disatisfied and dejected by the situation.'After meeting with my colleagues we all agree that it simply won"t be possible to offer the same service because the service will be no longer vialable. The Government refuses to talk to us and yet are set on meeting and taking the advice of the big drug manufacturers,' commented Niall Weir.'We have the option of offering cheaper generic drugs to patients, a system which works perfectly well in the UK, but they Government refuse to sit down with us and hear our proposals, yet they sit down and work out a strategy with the big manufacturers. You have to ask whose interests the Government have at heart,' said Mr. Weir.'This is an awful situation we"ve been put in by the Minister and the HSE,' he continued. 'I"m upset and many of my pharmacist colleagues in Mullingar and Westmeath are concerned about the effect on patients. In my opinion the government and the ministers are in a panic and are issuing dictates without speaking to the front line personnel on the ground, be they pharmacists, doctors or nurses.'Pharmacists have made submissions to the government about saving money for the State and for patients. We have made submissions on the use of generic medicines which would lead to cheaper prescriptions for the public and for the government. But these have been ignored by the Minister. We have also made submissions on how to reduce the wastage of medicines. The only way to resolve this situation is through negotiation.'Mullingar pharmacist Liz Hoctor, President of the Irish Pharmacy Union said 'Pharmacists are calling on the Minister for Health and Children to engage with us immediately on how savings can be achieved without having a catastrophic impact on pharmacy services, patient care and employment.'We recognise the seriousness of the country"s economic situation and back in March made proposals to the Minister which would save the State €83m. Our proposals included enabling pharmacists to offer patients the choice of a cheaper generic medicine where it is safe to do so and the acceptance of an 8 per cent cut in pharmacy fees which is in line with cuts imposed on all other healthcare professionals. However, our proposals, which are practical and reasonable, were ignored by the Minister and instead a 34 per cent cut in payments was announced.'Ms Hoctor continued 'Ireland has one of the most liberal pharmacy markets in Europe. The Minister seems determined to push small independent pharmacies out of business and to hand the community pharmacy sector on a plate to a small number of large international players. It would be a great shame to decimate a sector that has over the years provided a personal and professional service that is highly valued by patients.'