Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland is calling for the Department of Health in Belfast to take a holistic view of primary care and community services to ensure that people have access to appropriate health services.
With the huge pressures across primary care, including difficulties being experienced by many patients in getting through to their local GP, CPNI believes now is the time for a new approach to accessing health care.
The call follows a meeting of the N Ireland Assembly Health Committee earlier this week. During the session, the Committee’s deputy chair, Pam Cameron MLA, noted anecdotally that it took her around 125 attempts to get through to her local GP.
Chair of the CPNI Board, James McCaughan, who runs McCaughan Chemist in Ballycastle, said: “The answer is not to just invest more in general practice: it has to run much deeper than that. The Department needs to conduct a review of the whole system and how it is currently operating. It needs to take account of where there is capacity, where investment should be concentrated, and how we can support GPs to continue to provide timely care to sick patients. What has been abundantly clear throughout the pandemic is that the current system just is not working for patients.”
Community pharmacies already see around 123,000 people every day (9 per cent of the local population) and with investment would have capacity to take on further responsibilities. This would reduce the severe bottlenecks seen in general practice and maximise the use of over 530 community pharmacies located across N Ireland, CPNI is telling politicians.
CPNI chief executive Gerard Greene said: “If we are seriously committed to the transformation of the health service, we need to start to think strategically about investment and resources to make our services work properly as soon as possible and displace the bottlenecking at GP surgeries.
“Community pharmacists have helped deliver the annual winter flu vaccination programme, Covid-19 vaccinations, and other minor ailment services that can keep people away from GP surgeries, a point recognised by the chair of the Health Committee, Colm Gildernew. Through a collaborative approach between GPs, community pharmacy and the Department, a new way of working can and must be found.”