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Community pharmacists in NI to take industrial action over 'crisis'

Gerard Greene: "Community pharmacists have reached breaking point"

Community pharmacists in Northern Ireland have voted in favour of industrial action in response to safety fears and “insurmountable funding pressures,” CPNI has announced.

At a closed meeting in Belfast on Monday night (February 24), an overwhelming 98% of community pharmacy contractors present – 95 contractors representing 418 pharmacies – voted in favour of industrial action.

In a statement released yesterday (February 25), Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) said its members had decided to act because they had “reached breaking point”.

Commenting that the situation for community pharmacy in Northern Ireland has now reached an “end game” stage, CPNI added that “pharmacists have major concerns about how to maintain the safe and ongoing supply of medicines as a result of serious underfunding and a workforce crisis in the sector due to a shortage of pharmacists and locums”.

Speaking to C+D today (February 26) CPNI CEO Gerard Greene said: “We have reached a crisis point because of a perfect storm of workload, workforce and funding difficulties.” Conditions are now such that “teams within pharmacies are under such unrelenting pressure and stretched so thinly that there is concern [about them being] able to maintain the safe provision of services,” he added.

It has not yet been decided what form the industrial action will take or when it will begin, with CPNI explaining that this will “be formalised in the coming weeks”.

New health minister Robin Swann – in post since last month – said yesterday that “the announcement of proposed industrial action is regrettable and surprising,” adding that he was “very aware of the challenges within community pharmacy, including the need for greater funding certainty.”

“A litany of unresolved issues”

CPNI also criticised the Department of Health in Northern Ireland (DoH) for its approach to community pharmacy in the country. Mr Greene said yesterday (February 25) that the representative body had “been warning the Department [of Health] for years of this growing crisis”

Referencing “a litany of unresolved issues stemming from sustained underfunding” – CPNI believes the sector to be underfunded by around £20 million a year – Mr Green also criticised “the refusal of the Department [of Health] to address this crisis”.

Speaking to C+D today, Mr Greene added that if DoH had taken sufficient action at an earlier stage “we would not be in the situation we are – this is a culmination of 10 years of insufficiency in terms of funding.” There is, he said, “a feeling that community pharmacy’s difficulties and very real problems have not been taken with the same degree of seriousness [as those of] other aspects of health service”.

Contingency measures

Mr Swann said the DoH had been “working with CPNI on a programme of reform including new services, development of the pharmacy workforce, and updated arrangements for reimbursing community pharmacists for medicines dispensed.”

Commenting on the potential impact of industrial action, Mr Swann said he wanted to “assure patients that contingency measures will be developed to minimise the impact of any industrial action.”

“I would urge CPNI to reconsider its plans and work with me to develop a sustainable way forward,” he added.

Mr Greene said that “nobody wants to see industrial action…it is a last resort as a health professional”. However, while commenting that the current level of funding is “totally and clearly insufficient”, he also expressed hope that the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the appointment of a new health minister could signal a fresh start.

“Now that we have a minister in post who has the authority to intervene, I think everybody is looking to [him],” he said. CPNI has a meeting scheduled with Mr Swann at the end of March – arranged prior to Monday’s vote in favour of industrial action.

What do you make of this decision by community pharmacists in Northern Ireland?

Yo Palumeri, Community pharmacist

At last

No to PCN

No to ask your pharmacist

can't wait

How High?, Community pharmacist

You are all right.

Too divided to ever get anywhere as most pharmacists will sell their granny to get ahead. Owners only too happy to leave you short handed and under pressure whilst offering a pittance for the privilege. They don't care because know the GPhC will do precisely nothing about staffing levels.

The DoH are very clever and still know a few things about pharmacy. They know how many layers of management their NHS money puts into multiples, they know what cars the owners of pharmacies drive etc etc and they are not stupid and when multiples post profits of £ms they know 95% of that is from the NHS. It wouldn't surprise me if they don't see some info from HMRC too...

I really admire these contractors for having the cahonas to finally do something. It'd be absolutely fantastic if they started by withdrawing every single thing we don't get funded for. I also hope they are savvy enough to get the media onside and present it properly so as not to lose public sympathy.

Go the Irish! :)

Angry Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

The GPhC will never do anything for Pharmacists. They're not there for us, they're there to protect the public from us because we are SO bad. Why isn't there an organisation protecting Pharmacists? Until we stick together and take action they'll never understand or take note 

Ghengis Pharm, Locum pharmacist

Isn't that the job of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society ? On no, I forgot .. they have absolutely no influence anywhere.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

The GPhC will certainly be paying attention hoping that Contractors closer to home are too distracted to sit up and take notes. 

Independent Dave, Community pharmacist

Finally someone leading the way. My hats off to them, they have my full support and respect....puts our representing bodies over here to shame!

Dodo pharmacist, Community pharmacist

More power to them. I fully support their actions and feel we should be doing exactly the same in England. 

SP Ph, Community pharmacist

When are we going to do the same in England? Rubbish stick and carrot services, funding not in line with inflation and unnecessary diversion of workforce to PCNs, GP surgeries. What else do we need to take industrial action??

O J, Community pharmacist

There will never be one in England. Firstly, Too busy slagging each other. Secondly no one has got it in them to do it. No unity.
Just slave away and moan. That's what we deserve. :)

Independent Dave, Community pharmacist

My thoughts exactly. There needs to be one though and we should follow their lead. However, in order to do so, like you say, we need to stop stabbing each other in the back and hating, leaving the government to laugh and pick us apart. Locums, employees, independents and the multiples (dare I say it) need to come together. And most importantly PSNC and our representing bodies need too, instead of just standing in the background, avoiding confrontation and telling us that they tried, but the government is a big meanie! Stop agreeing that we’re worthless guys and stand up!!

Angry Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

Finally pharmacists are awakening from their sheep like trances and realising that's organisations like the GPhC and PSNC do very little to actually represent our needs and interests and do more to line their pockets. A few feathers will be ruffled in those comfortable offices of Canary Wharf 

Oliver Staunton, Information Technology

I think the PSNI are the regulatory body in Northern Ireland but I understand your sentiment.

Angry Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

Yes indeed they are. It was a generic comment. We all need to stick together as Pharmacists and not allow to be walked over by people who don't have a clue about our profession, or know and don't care or those that aren't on the front line. Pathetic really. I look at Optometrists with so much envy. I wish we were represented and respected like they are 

Dee dee, Community pharmacist











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