Community Pharmacy NI is urging the NI Executive to ensure that Northern Ireland’s community pharmacy network is given the necessary investment to stabilise the sector and support services ahead of tomorrow’s Comprehensive Spending Review and Budget announcement.
Community pharmacy has to date experienced a legacy of significant underfunding and workforce difficulties, and faces unprecedented winter pressures. Community Pharmacy NI is calling for an immediate and multi-year funding plan to allow it to continue to respond to the pandemic.
According to the industry, a three-year funding settlement would offer one of the best opportunities in recent years to address the long-term funding shortages which have impacted community pharmacy over the last decade. Investment is also required to help with the sector’s response to the immediate winter challenges.
As the only open-access health care provider in primary care during the Covid-19 pandemic, community pharmacy, like other sectors of health care, has a workforce that is left exhausted from the challenge. Increasing workforce pressures have led to staff moving away from frontline community pharmacy and into other parts of the health service.
In addition to everyday pharmacy services including the safe supply of over 40 million prescription medicines to patients annually across Northern Ireland, the network is now the main provider of primary Covid-19 vaccinations in Northern Ireland and will deliver booster jabs as well as an enhanced flu vaccination programme.
Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI, Gerard Greene said:
“Community pharmacy has long operated under significant financial constraints with services having to make do with ad hoc injections of funding for too long. We now have an opportunity, through the Executive’s Spending Review settlement, to take a multi-year approach to resourcing the sector so that it is placed on a more sustainable footing, allowing for long-term planning and further service provisions to be added.
“The reality is we are starting to see the effects that years of underinvestment is having on our community pharmacy sector. Added to this is the ever-rising cost-base for community pharmacy contractors seen principally with dramatically rising staff costs and energy costs to give just two examples. Whilst the Chancellor has signalled his intent to also use tax increases to account for rising health and social care costs, we are calling on the Executive to ensure that community pharmacy is included within all the budgetary allocations made available to the Northern Ireland Executive.
“Community pharmacists have been proud to play an instrumental role in the Covid-19 and Winter flu vaccine roll-outs. However, these run alongside all other pharmacy services and this requires detailed planning and resourcing to ensure safe staffing levels and supply of medicines and regular services.
“With our health service under huge pressure, it was encouraging to hear Finance Minister Conor Murphy MLA speaking recently of his intention to use the Executive’s block grant to prioritise health. It is imperative that funds are allocated to the Department of Health to ensure recurrent investment for community pharmacy.
“On the ground, community pharmacists have been at breaking point, but have kept their doors open to look after patients over the past nineteen months. Community Pharmacy services enable patients to be cared for and maintained in their own home environment, freeing up hospitals, GPs and care homes for the most unwell and vulnerable. It is time that the dedication and work of our sector is matched with the correct funding and resourcing.”