Pharmacists urged to end strike

Pharmacists were tonight urged to call off a crippling 11-day stoppage and resume services across the country.

The Executive of the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) said the u-turn was in light of the growing risks to patient safety and to prevent further chaotic scenes at pharmacies which remained open.

An emergency meeting of members took place in Dublin to get support for the proposal and decide what direction to take in the dispute with Health Minister Mary Harney.

IPU President Liz Hoctor said it was very clear that some of the issues which caused this dispute have not been resolved and warned that further disruption to services was almost inevitable if they are not.

“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,” said Ms Hoctor.

“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.

“That is a key point for people to remember long into the future.”

A HSE spokeswoman said it welcomed any decision that puts the patients to the fore.

Ms Hoctor said the Executive believes all pharmacists should resume normal services as a matter of urgency and assist patients, who she claims have borne the brunt of failed HSE contingency plans.

She maintained there have been chaotic scenes around the country as patients join long queues for prescriptions at Health Service Executive dispensaries which have not had commonly used medicines.

“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,” continued Ms Hoctor.

“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.

“That is a key point for people to remember long into the future.”

But the HSE maintains 75% of all pharmacies – more than 1,100 – continue to hold community pharmacy contractor agreements and therefore must provide pharmacy services to members of the public.

At the High Court it secured an injunction against 35 pharmacies which prevented them from withdrawing services.

Ms Hoctor said that, while there had been some contact between the Department and the IPU over recent days, no acceptable basis had yet been found for a meaningful engagement to address the issues in this dispute.

She said the union would now be writing to the Minister setting out its proposals on how the future relationship between the parties should be conducted and the Union is prepared to engage with the Minister on this agenda.

“The Minister has to recognise that, irrespective of what legislation she is acting under, she cannot hope to bring about real and lasting change without the involvement and participation of all parties,” added Ms Hoctor.

The dispute centres on a cut in payments to pharmacists who dispense prescriptions under the State drug schemes.

Government health chiefs maintain the cost of dispensing under the Medical Card Scheme and the Drugs Payments Scheme have doubled since 2002 to more than €1.6bn in 2008 – with fees and other income earned by pharmacists also doubling.

The HSE said the cuts that came in to force on August 1 will cost the pharmacists 24%, while the IPU maintains payments will be slashed by 34%.

Most Read in Ireland