High street chemists across Northern Ireland are facing closure without an urgent cash injection from health officials, it has been claimed.
The body that represents community pharmacies in Northern Ireland has said the service is in crisis and patients will lose out as they are forced to rely upon already overstretched GP and A&E services.
Community Pharmacy NI (CPNI) has published the results of a survey of members, 81% of whom said the current funding situation is having an impact on their own health and wellbeing.
Gerard Greene, CPNI chief executive, said: "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.
"We are a patient facing service, we are the only section of the health service where patients can access us without an appointment and patients consistently report high levels of satisfaction.
"The current situation must be addressed urgently."
The failure to provide adequate funding comes despite the Department of Health commissioning an independent review into the cost of running community pharmacies. The review, carried out by PWC and published last year, identified a shortfall of between £20m and £40m to run community pharmacy in Northern Ireland.
Mr Greene said the current stance by the Department of Health is difficult to understand given the fact it is encouraging people to make better use of local chemists.
In addition, a number of major reviews of the health service here, including the Bengoa Report and Transforming Your Care, recommend more care is delivered in the community.
Mr Greene continued: "Our members are telling us they feel like they are being ignored."
Paul Savage, who owns three pharmacies in north and west Belfast, said: "I am an important part of the community.
"We have given CPR to people who have collapsed in the shop and saved their lives, we have had someone die in the pharmacy, I have had a gun held to my head," he said.
"It's so frustrating to feel like our contribution to the health service is not being recognised.
"At the moment it is actually costing me money to dispense prescriptions.
"It is not a sustainable position and it's extremely worrying for me because I have wages and overheads to pay."
The Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.
Community Pharmacy NI members said funding shortfall is having an impact on their own health