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Wholesaler gives medicines supply warning as pharmacies delay payments

There are “major concerns” that patients in Northern Ireland will not receive their medicines if pharmacies keep defaulting on payments, a wholesaler has warned.

Wholesaler Ethigen – which supplies medicines to “a significant number” of pharmacies in Northern Ireland – has warned that the company is “experiencing delays in payments from pharmacies” in the country, because of the ongoing funding crisis.

Speaking to C+D this morning (November 12), Martin Dunn, head of strategy and operations at Ethigen, said the company's “major concern” is that patients’ medicines supply will be disrupted if pharmacies are unable to pay their wholesale bills.

“If payments aren’t made, then pharmacies run into credit issues and that will delay medicines getting [to patients],” he said.

“No one has completely failed to pay us yet,” he stressed. However, the “direction of travel” suggests that “at some point…if you’re not being paid, you stop supply”.

Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) chief executive Gerard Greene told C+D earlier this month that pharmacies in the country are at risk of closure because of “12 months of sustained funding reductions”, which amounts to a “£20 million deficit at least”.

Mr Dunn said despite supplying medicines to around 2,000 pharmacies across the UK, the situation is “more acute” in Northern Ireland. While the company is in “constant conversation” with customers who are “experiencing real hardship”, Ethigen has become increasingly sceptical of pharmacies looking to open new accounts.

“When we get new accounts looking for credit terms with us, who haven’t traded with us in the past, you wonder whether they have exhausted their credit elsewhere,” Mr Dunn told C+D.

“All medicines are at risk”

CPNI announced today that “several wholesalers” have written to Northern Ireland's Department of Health (DH) to warn that “medicines supply will grind to a halt” because of pharmacies' poor creditworthiness.

Its chairman John Clark said: “If wholesalers have to start refusing credit to community pharmacies this could affect all types of medicines.

“At the moment, all medicine supplies are at risk,” he warned.

Mr Dunn confirmed that Ethigen has written to Northern Ireland’s chief pharmaceutical officer Mark Timoney to explain the situation, but is yet to hear back.

According to the letter signed by Ethigen finance director Martin Kelly – a copy of which C+D has seen – “over the past six months, [Ethigen] has begun to see, with increasing frequency, customers failing to meet obligations of their credit terms. Many of these customers have traded with us for over 15 years without issue.

“Not only does this give us concerns regarding customer default and the risks that poses to our business, but it also speaks to the general conditions in which community pharmacy finds itself,” Mr Kelly said in the letter.

DH: “Dialogue is ongoing”

When asked by C+D, the DH did not confirm if wholesalers had written to them about their concerns, or when a funding package for the sector would be decided.

However, it is “committed to finding a way forward with community pharmacy representatives to develop sustainable funding for community pharmacy services in Northern Ireland that supports improved patient outcomes”, a spokesperson told C+D.

“That dialogue is ongoing and despite well-documented pressures on the health budget, the DH and the Health and Social Care Board are actively working to finalise those discussions and establish new contractual arrangements for community pharmacy in Northern Ireland.”

Watch the video below to find out the factors contributing to the community pharmacy crisis in Northern Ireland, according to CPNI's Mr Greene.

How are you coping with the pharmacy funding crisis?

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