A COOKSTOWN pharmacist has urged the Department of Health to act immediately to address workfore and funding pressures blightly the industry.
A survery of community pharmacists in Northern Ireland identified a huge shortfall in their numbers and real concerns about their ability ot maintain safe services for patients.
The survey, undertaken by Community Pharmacy NI, saw responses from 77 per cent of community pharmacies in Northern Ireland – representing 409 pharmacies out of a total 532.
The survery showed that 400 pharmacists have left the industry in the last two years; the Northern Ireland community pharmacy network is now operating with an estimated deficit of 320 pharmacists and that 70 per cent of contractors have been unable to fill advertised workforce roles.
Speaking about the problems facing the industry Niall Falls, a pharmacist based in Cookstown said: “We understand there is pressure right across the health and social care sector, however community pharmacy is essential in reducing the need for unnecessary visits to GP practices, out-of-hours services and hospitals.
“We are a front line service and people rely on us for immediate and accessible advice in their local areas.
“We know that the Department is aware of the pressures that are mounting and it is now time the Department acted to reverse the huge damage that is being done to our network.
“If the Department does not invest properly in community-based services, then we won’t achieve the much-needed transformation in healthcare. Community pharmacy should feature heavily in the transformation of health and social care that we are told is urgently needed in Northern Ireland for our health service to be sustainable.
“Community pharmacists are ready and willing to throw our weight behind the transformation, but to do so we require proper funding and resources.”
The Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland criticsed the department’s desire to continue the roll out of Practice Based Pharmacists.
“The findings in the CPNI workforce report are damning but what I find even more worrying is the Department’s willingness to continue the roll-out of the Practice Based Pharmacist scheme when we have asked that it should be deferred until the community pharmacy workforce crisis is resolved.
“Obviously, any new money for the health service is good news and nearly £27 million is a significant investment, but the Department must urgently make the same investment in community pharmacy to stabilise the sector and to ensure that safe services can continue to be provided for patients.”
The Department of Health is in the process of carrying out its own workforce review of the entire pharmacy profession in Northern Ireland and initial findings indicate that the situation is significantly worse in the community pharmacy sector compared to Trust and GP sectors.