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Health chiefs rapped over failure to consult on £38m pharmacy cuts

Health chiefs failed to carry out proper consultation before imposing cuts of up to £38m to the community pharmacy budget in Northern Ireland, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Treacy also held that a sufficient regulatory impact assessment was not conducted as part of the process for bringing in a new drug tariff.

Legal proceedings were brought by a body which represents more than 500 chemists amid fears that the funding arrangements could force many to close.

After winning a judicial review, Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) said it was determined to work with Health Minister Edwin Poots to protect essential frontline services.

Chief executive Gerard Greene said outside court yesterday: “While we welcome the judge's decision that the proper consultation process had not been followed, it is imperative that we now find a solution that ensures fair and reasonable funding for the pharmacy services provided to patients in Northern Ireland.

“Community pharmacy is in crisis and we are concerned that unless measures are put in place straight away, this may impact the long-term sustainability of community pharmacy in Northern Ireland.”

The new remuneration and reimbursement arrangements were put in place in April 2011. According to CPNI, the cutbacks were too severe and

did not involve fair and reasonable prices and fees.

Chemists across Northern Ireland have been badly hit and are struggling to stay open, it said.

A major concern was that any closures could impact on some of the 120,000 people who use community pharmacies every day in Northern Ireland.

Lawyers for CPNI argued that the drug tariff was unlawful.

Although Mr Justice Treacy has yet to give out his full judgment, he said that the Department “erred in failing to carry out a regulatory impact assessment”. He also stated there had been a failure to carry out specific consultation around the relevant issues.

Both sides will return to court in the new year to establish appropriate remedies.

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