Pharmacies across Athlone have recommenced dispensing prescription medication, after the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU ) urged them to resume normal service in the interest of patient safety.
The majority of Athlone’s pharmacies had remained closed from August 1 after they withdrew from the Medical Card Scheme and other community drugs schemes.
The move followed the decision by the Minister for Health to cut payments to pharmacists for providing medicines to patients on the community drug schemes by 34 per cent.
Although the IPU says the dispute is far from over and that significant issues remain unresolved, pharmacists were advised to resume normal services immediately following an emergency meeting of the union’s national executive on Tuesday evening.
Athlone pharmacist Philip McGorisk said that it was business as usual from Wednesday this week in his three Athlone pharmacies.
“The union and ourselves were concerned about patient safety and wellbeing, and the situation couldn’t go on any longer. Our concern now is to continue to dispense medicines as normal, and to get our customers and patients back on track.
“We are back in business, but the dispute is not over,” he added.
Speaking following Tuesday’s meeting, Westmeath pharmacist and president of the IPU, Liz Hoctor, said the decision to resume services was taken in order to prevent a recurrence of the chaotic scenes of the past two weeks, during which patients had “borne the brunt of the total failure of the HSE contingency plans”.
However, she warned further disruption to services was inevitable if the issues that caused the dispute were not fully resolved.
“The bottom line is that the cuts which the Minister has forced through will have a very real and detrimental impact on the quality of patient care which community pharmacists can provide.
“In this dispute I hope it was made clear to people that our ability to continue to provide high levels of service is threatened by the Minister’s actions.”
She added that some progress had already been made in the union’s negotiations with the Minister.
“We have made progress on some matters; the Minister has stated emphatically that she will not seek to remove a cent more than €133 million from the sector on foot of these cuts - and not the €169 million that we feared would follow. And the Minister has agreed to create a dialogue involving pharmacists on the future and developing the role of the profession. We will engage vigorously and urgently with that process.
“Pharmacists have made clear over the past 11 days that the pharmacy profession is united and is prepared to fight for the right to proper representation and input into issues that affect our profession and patient welfare.”
She added that any attempt by the HSE to place obstacles in the way of any pharmacist who decides to resume normal services will be met with a very swift response.
Meanwhile the HSE welcomed the decision by pharmacies to resume normal services this week.
“Our aim is to enable pharmacies to recommence dispensing as soon as possible and the approach we are adopting seeks to strike the right balance between the immediacy of the community's requirements with good governance.
“We look forward to the full resumption in pharmacy services and beyond that to the future role that pharmacies can play in health care services,” said Patrick Burke, head of the HSE’s Primary Care Reimbursement Scheme.