The pharmacy/HSE action is over for now with hundreds of pharmacists once again dispensing medicines under the Community Drug Schemes. But the Irish Pharmaceutical Union has warned that if the HSE places any obstacles in the way of pharmacies resuming normal services they will be met with a “very swift response”.
In a statement the HSE said it is putting arrangements in place to ensure that the pharmacies which had terminated their Community Pharmacy Contractor Agreement could again begin dispensing medicines under the State Drug Schemes as quickly as possible. According to the HSE a facility is now in place to enable them to immediately recommence filling prescriptions under the State schemes.
Union president Liz Hoctor said the action was over but not the dispute. She said the decision to return to work was made because of growing risks to patient safety and because the Minister for Health gave a commitment to carry out a review of the appropriateness and the impact of the proposed cuts to pharmacists.
Chaotic scenes were witnessed at the HSE contingency centres in Mayo where patients were forced to wait hours, and sometimes days, to have their prescriptions filled. Some patients who handed in prescriptions as far back as last Thursday were still waiting to have them filled on Wednesday.
Across the country there were reports of wrong prescriptions being handed out to sick patients or wrong dosages. Only for the diligence of patients themselves who were familiar with their own medication and who checked their prescriptions, a fatality could have occurred.
As hundreds of patients descended on these HSE-run centres, dispensing staff were expected to deal with huge numbers of patients in one day, far above the numbers that any one pharmacist would deal with at his/her own store. “It was a horribly unfair situation to place dispensing staff in as they must maintain their professional responsibilities toward patient safety while at the same time deal with an unprecedented inflow of people seeking medicine in a setting they are not familiar with,” according to Castlebar Town councillor Ger Deere. HSE management commended the tireless dedication and commitment of its staff in meeting the challenge.
The row centres around cuts in fees to pharmacists for dispensing drugs under State schemes and for now it appears to be on hold. Patients can return to their local pharmacist to have their prescriptions filled and it is expected that the contingency centres will be phased out. The HSE dispensing facilities on the western seaboard continue to deliver normal services. According to the HSE all sites have reported fewer patients presenting compared to last week. The nine sites will continue to operate to ensure a continuity of service for clients and the HSE will review the arrangements at these sites in due course.
Pharmacists themselves have expressed a sigh of relief as concerns about the safety of their customers grew.
The decision to resume normal service was announced after an emergency meeting in Dublin on Tuesday night following which Irish Pharmaceutical Union leaders took the decision that its members would return to normal service.
The IPU president warned that some of the issues that had caused the dispute remained and if they were not resolved further disruption to services was possible.
Ballinrobe pharmacist Des Treacy said it “could have been curtains” for many patients. He said the chaos that existed at the contingency centres showed the pressure that pharmacists are under on a daily basis.
“The HSE realised it is a complicated job and not just a matter of putting labels on bottles,” a relieved Mr Treacy told the Mayo Advertiser.
He said it would have been virtually impossible not to make mistakes at the over-stretched HSE contingency centres and it was important that services, particularly in rural areas, were resumed.
Mr Treacy dubbed the situation that existed during the row as “crazy” but he said the Minister had made a few commitments. “As long as she sticks to them harmony will remain,” he added.