The majority of Athlone’s pharmacists have announced they are to close their doors to the public from August 1, following their decision to stop dispensing prescription medicines on that date.
Local pharmacist Philip McGorisk, who operates three premises in the town, said that as the pharmacists would be withdrawing from community drug schemes on August 1, they had agreed to close their doors altogether in a protest aimed at the HSE.
“All the pharmacists in Athlone are on board with this. We feel that to stage a proper protest we need to pull our shutters down, and we don’t know when we will open up again,” Mr McGorisk said yesterday, adding that Boots in Golden Island was the only pharmacy he knew of that would not be withdrawing from the schemes.
Last week, seven Athlone pharmacists gave the HSE 30 days notice of their intention to withdraw from community drug schemes, including the Medical Card Scheme and the Drugs Payments Scheme.
The move follows the recent decision of the Minister for Health to cut payments to pharmacists for providing medicines to patients on the community drug schemes by 34 per cent.
“We are willing to take cuts in line with other professions, but what the Minister is doing is unacceptable,” said Mr McGorisk.
And he warned that up to 50 pharmacy jobs could be on the line in Athlone as long as pharmacies are not dispensing prescription medicines.
“For some pharmacies, the cuts mean they will no longer be in a position to trade, as they would be trading at a loss. It’s going to be very, very hard and put pharmacists under a lot of financial pressure. I don’t know how long we can stay closed for,” he said.
Nevertheless, Mr McGorisk is hoping that it will not come to this, and that an agreement will be reached between the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU ) and Minister for Health, Mary Harney, before August 1, when two thirds of Ireland’s pharmacists have agreed to withdraw their services under the drug schemes.
“We are telling our customers that we hope it won’t happen. We’re hoping the Minister will come to her senses in the next week or two. She is trying to force our hand. We have demonstrated through the IPU the savings that can be made through other mechanisms and by working closely with doctors. But she is not listening,” added Mr McGorisk.
The IPU was unable to comment on whether pharmacies in other parts of the country would also be shutting their doors, and a spokesperson could only confirm that 1,100 pharmacists have given notice to the HSE of their intention to withdraw from community drugs schemes.
“It is up to individual pharmacists if they want to consider closing,” she said.