Community pharmacists in Northern Ireland have voted in favour of industrial action, claiming that the profession is facing “insurmountable funding pressures”.
In a statement published on 25 February 2020, Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) said that when its members met in Belfast the previous day, 98% of the 95 contractors representing 418 community pharmacies voted in favour of industrial action.
The statement added that community pharmacists in the country “have reached breaking point and have major concerns about how to maintain the safe and ongoing supply of medicines as a result of serious underfunding”.
It also highlighted concerns over a “workforce crisis in the sector due to a shortage of pharmacists and locums”, with the decision on what action community pharmacists will take set to be formalised “in the coming weeks”.
Gerard Greene, chief executive of CPNI, said the organisation has been warning Northern Ireland’s Department for Health “for years of this growing crisis”.
“A litany of unresolved issues stemming from sustained underfunding now means that community pharmacists have reached breaking point,” he said, adding that pharmacy’s decision to take industrial action was “not one reached lightly … but our network is at the point where the safe delivery of crucial frontline services for patients could be compromised”.
CPNI told the Northern Ireland affairs parliamentary committee, ahead of its report on health funding in the country published in November 2019, that its community pharmacies have been underfunded by at least £60m since 2011, owing to “the extrapolation of English Drug Tariff funding models which are not appropriate for Northern Ireland”.
In its written evidence submitted to the committee in September 2018, CPNI said: “Extrapolations have been carried out at a crude population level which do not take into account the higher level of community pharmacy workload and medicine procurement per head of population in Northern Ireland”.
Robin Swann, health minister for Northern Ireland, said he was “due to meet CPNI representatives in coming weeks,” adding that it’s “announcement of planned industrial action is regrettable and surprising”.
“I am very aware of the challenges within community pharmacy, including the need for greater funding certainty,” he continued.