Up to 100 pharmacies across Northern Ireland are in danger of closure as health bosses push through cuts of up to £38m this year, it has been claimed.
Community Pharmacy NI (CPNI) has warned hospital beds will be tied up by people who could otherwise be treated at home as pharmacies are forced to lay off staff and reduce services and opening hours.
The organisation has taken the matter to the High Court in an effort to reverse the cutbacks - which could mean up to 30% of funding removed from the service.
Gerard Greene, chief executive of CPNI, said: "These cuts will be disastrous for the health service."
Mr Greene said pharmacists across Northern Ireland have already reported experiencing serious financial difficulties and are considering a range of possibilities to make ends meet.
"We believe the cuts represent up to 30% of funding needed to keep this vital service running so we expect to see last minute and unplanned closures, with up to 100 pharmacies affected," he said.
"Many community pharmacies serve rural communities so their closure will mean patients having to travel further for the service, Patients are going to suffer, especially the elderly or those who rely on public transport.
"We have taken phone calls from pharmacists who are struggling financially and have said they are having to review staffing levels. This would mean pharmacies closing on a Saturday or in the evening, making it harder for people to get their medication.
"They are also going to have to cut back on services they currently provide. For example, at the moment pharmacists will make up boxes of medication for people with a complex range of drugs.
"This is done for people who may need to be supervised with regards to their medication, perhaps because they aren't sure about what they should be taking.
"If we are no longer able to provide that service they'll have to be looked after in hospital instead."
Community Pharmacy NI (CPNI) is the body recognised as representing Northern Ireland's community pharmacy contractors in negotiations on remuneration and terms of service. Community pharmacists provide a service accessible to the public without appointment - used by around 123,000 adults everyday. This equates to over 9% of the adult population in Northern Ireland.