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Northern Ireland drug supply crisis: £5.3m support package not enough

The Department of Health (DoH) is finalising a multi-million pound support package to help contractors with current drug shortage and pricing issues, but Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) believes this intervention does not go far enough, it has told C+D.

CPNI chief executive Gerard Greene called on the DoH yesterday (October 18) for an “immediate injection of funding” to help remunerate contractors fairly for rising medicines costs.

But the DoH told C+D that it was surprised “to see CPNI publicly demanding a package which it already knows is on the way”, as it said the negotiator was made aware last week that a dedicated funding envelope is being finalised.

“This package includes immediate interventions worth over £5.3 million in value, plus a commitment to progress wider reform arrangements in collaboration with CPNI,” the spokesperson added.

However, a CPNI spokesperson told C+D the £5.3m package “falls considerably short of ensuring the safe supply of medicines to patients”.

Pharmacy teams need urgent support as the flagged supply issues “come at a time when the community pharmacy network is facing an unworkable £20-30m deficit in its funding this year”, they added.

“We remain committed to finding a way forward with the [health minister Robin Swann] and his officials so that important community pharmacy services that the public rely on can be maintained,” the spokesperson continued.


Contractors struggle to pay for medicines


Drug shortages and “skyrocketing” wholesale prices have left contractors warning that they will no longer be able to pay for commonly prescribed drugs for conditions such as osteoporosis, mental health and coronary issues unless the DoH steps in, CPNI said.

“Community pharmacies regularly pay suppliers more for medicines than they get back from the [DoH],” he said. “The critical drug supply issue we are now facing shows that the [DoH] must reform the funding structures for community pharmacy in Northern Ireland.”

The country's Drug Tariff is “not workable”, Mr Greene stressed. “We have made repeated representations to the [DoH] requesting a change to these arrangements and to get a payment system that reflects the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland.”

Meanwhile, medicines shortages are forcing pharmacy teams to spend “hours every day” sourcing medicines, he commented.


“DH only paying fraction of what I am charged”


David McCrea, who is a community pharmacist at Belfast’s Dundela Pharmacy, said he has never seen such steep medicines price increases during his 30-year career.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to afford to meet wholesalers’ prices “because we are not being paid the full cost for these drugs” by the DH, he said.

He claimed that the price of some medicines had risen “fiftyfold”, but the government only remunerates him a “fraction of what I am being charged”.

He added: “With the shortages and price increases affecting hundreds of drugs, I simply cannot afford to operate under the current model. It is causing financial stress, my credit limits with wholesalers are being breached, and it is simply unsustainable.”

It follows a Channel 4 report last week (October 12) that claimed drug shortages had risen by 200% in a year.


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