The Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI, Gerard Greene, has warned that the underfunding of community pharmacy by the Department of Health has left the industry in a critical state and is placing immense strain on many community pharmacists.


As many as 87% of local pharmacists surveyed expressed that they were ‘very worried about their own businesses’ with 81% stating that the ‘current funding situation is having an impact on their own health and wellbeing’.


The staggering findings were uncovered after a recent survey of 75 contractors representing 200 community pharmacies in Northern Ireland.


Community pharmacies have a vital role in delivering community-based healthcare services and the promotion of well-being, with around 123,000 people visiting a community pharmacy every day.


It is often the first point of contact for people to the health service and it is also the last point of contact for those receiving prescribed medication.


Prior to the collapse of the NI Assembly, the last Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill, outlined a commitment to continue to develop and resource community pharmacy-based initiatives over the next 10 years. However, this is now in jeopardy due to the fact that the Department of Health is under funding the cost of providing community pharmacy services by at least £20m.


This funding shortfall has been compounded in recent months by unprecedented generic medicines shortages leaving community pharmacists and their staff with a daily struggle to find many of the medicines needed by their patients. When they do source the items required, they can find themselves paying more than ten times the usual price, all without knowing if they will be fully reimbursed.


Community pharmacies in Northern Ireland are currently under sustained attack due to:

  • Prolonged Government underfunding;
  • Additional funding cuts made in 2017/18;
  • Funding model which sees many medicines dispensed at a loss;
  • Medicine shortages;
  • Rising demand;
  • Workforce crisis;
  • Rising incidence of violent crime.


Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI commented: 


“Community pharmacists are at breaking point as the realities of managing their businesses on a day to day basis, whilst serving patients and customers, is causing severe strain.” 


“The cost of providing the community pharmacy service is hugely underfunded due to a shortfall in what the Department of Health is willing to allocate, and the cost of keeping community pharmacies open.


“The real impact is that eight in ten of the business owning community pharmacists have told us that the funding situation is having an impact on their own health and wellbeing. Some contractors have told us that they are reaching breaking point. This is unacceptable and must be urgently addressed.”


“The lack of an Executive and a Minister for Health is a hindrance to putting right the chronic situation we are in at present, but we have full cross-party backing to unlock the critical financial support needed and a Memorandum of Understanding endorsed by the previous Health Minister Michelle O’Neill to deliver contractual arrangements which would provide fair and reasonable remuneration.


“We now need the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health to follow through with this commitment and support and release the funding to arrest the decline within community pharmacy.”


“We are calling for clear and fair remuneration and reimbursement so that investment can take place to meet safety, quality and efficacy requirements. At present that just does not exist.”


He added:


“The year on year increase in workload of community pharmacists’ means that they have still to undertake a combination of core dispensing, over the counter medicine supply and advice, wider community pharmacy services and employ a skilled workforce at the same time as the level of funding from government has, in real terms decreased.


“It is completely unacceptable and unjust that they have been forced to subsidise the provision of an essential healthcare service due to this lack of funding.”


“In addition, this threat will result in pharmacies closing, thereby reducing people’s access to a vital health service that is currently the most accessible service available and which does not require appointments.” 


“Our members have a responsibility to ensure that we help patients stay well and prevent illness wherever possible, but there is an unseen side to the profession that must be supported before there is any further impact.”