The negotiator for Northern Ireland’s community pharmacies is urging the Stormont executive to “stabilise” the network through a comprehensive three-year funding commitment.
In a statement issued ahead of today’s budget announcement, Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland spoke of a “legacy of significant underfunding” which it said must be addressed, warning that the sector faces “unprecedented winter pressures”.
CPNI chief Gerard Greene (pictured) said pharmacies were strapped for cash after “having to make do with ad hoc injections of funding for too long” and dealing with “dramatically rising” staff and energy costs.
The NI executive’s upcoming spending review provides an opportunity for long-term planning, including the development of new pharmacy services, he said.
CPNI called for an “immediate and multi-year funding plan to allow it to continue to respond to the pandemic”. The negotiator said a three-year settlement would help tackle the mounting workforce pressures that have led to staff “moving away from frontline community pharmacy and into other parts of the health service”.
Pharmacies are now the main provider of Covid-19 vaccinations on top of ensuring the supply of over 40 million prescription medicines each year, said CPNI.
Mr Greene added: “The reality is we are starting to see the effects that years of underinvestment is having on our community pharmacy sector.
“While the chancellor has signalled his intent to also use tax increases to account for rising health and social care costs, we are calling on the Executive to ensure that community pharmacy is included within all the budgetary allocations made available to the Northern Ireland Executive.
“With our health service under huge pressure, it was encouraging to hear Finance Minister Conor Murphy MLA speaking recently of his intention to use the Executive’s block grant to prioritise health. It is imperative that funds are allocated to the Department of Health to ensure recurrent investment for community pharmacy.
“On the ground, community pharmacists have been at breaking point, but have kept their doors open to look after patients over the past nineteen months. Community Pharmacy services enable patients to be cared for and maintained in their own home environment, freeing up hospitals, GPs and care homes for the most unwell and vulnerable. It is time that the dedication and work of our sector is matched with the correct funding and resourcing.”