Community Pharmacies

Members' Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 6 December 2021.

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Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP 12:00, 6 December 2021

I will highlight an issue of great concern that will affect the vast majority of pharmacies and hundreds if not thousands of people should resolution not be found.

According to Community Pharmacy NI, around 37,000 patients in Northern Ireland currently receive the service of weekly medicine dose trays and other similar adherence devices. Those trays, which are sorted by pharmacy staff every week, help many vulnerable and elderly patients to manage their daily medication correctly.

Owing to an increasing workload, not least because of vaccinations but also because of mounting financial and staffing pressures on the sector, a large majority of pharmacy owners recently voted no longer to provide the monitored dosage system and similar compliance aids to new patients beyond 1 December 2021.

The service has been underfunded and overstretched to the point that many new patients may be unable to access it until a settlement can be found with the Department. I will point out that a new patient is not just a new patient in the true sense of the word but a patient who may be in hospital and then discharged with a new prescription.

Last week, Gerard Greene, the chief executive of Community Pharmacy NI said:

"As part of this service, we have been assisting patients, often those who are elderly, to safely manage their medicines at home and in the community, reducing the need for patients to be transferred to other settings such as hospitals. It is worrying that by not commissioning this service, there could be additional and avoidable hospital pressures."

Our community pharmacy sector and patients who rely on those services deserve to have them properly commissioned and appropriately funded by the Department of Health. We cannot allow the situation to drag on without resolution. New patients, particularly many vulnerable individuals coming on to the system, will require support to better manage their medicines at home and in the community.

Our community pharmacies have never been busier, remaining open to the public throughout the pandemic and now on the front line administering thousands of COVID-19 vaccinations. We cannot thank those pharmacists and their assisting staff enough for their work over the past 20 months. Their service deserves much greater public recognition. We will always be extremely grateful for that face-to-face support, care and advice that we receive through their services. Recently, I visited the fantastic team at Randalstown Pharmacies as part of Ask Your Pharmacist Week and saw at first hand the patient-, family- and community-focused services that it provides.

To conclude, I welcome the recent ongoing engagement with the Department of Health and the community pharmacy sector to resolve the matter. I urge the Health Minister to ensure that that ongoing engagement with the community pharmacy sector is expedited and that fair arrangement is made to secure the service's long-term sustainability. Any settlement must recognise the financial and time-consuming burden on staff. We must maintain that invaluable service.