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Northern Ireland pharmacies need £20m more a year, says report but health chief disagrees

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Pressures: Richard Pengelly

Pressures: Richard Pengelly

Pressures: Richard Pengelly

The most senior civil servant in the Department of Health has said he doesn't "necessarily accept" the findings of an independent review of community pharmacy funding.

A PwC report, commissioned by the department, found that community pharmacies in Northern Ireland are underfunded each year to the tune of £20m.

High street chemists have been campaigning for increased funding and have warned that patients will come to harm if health officials fail to act.

However, in a devastating blow, Richard Pengelly was non-commital about the report's recommendation when he appeared before Stormont's health committee.

"I don't want to sit here saying we are looking to find £20m in the sense we don't necessarily accept the findings," he said.

"There are financial pressures and there is ongoing work. There are two sides to every story and we're working to find a point in the middle."

High street pharmacists have claimed they are on the point of collapse - and even losing money when they dispense medication.

Some pharmacists are missing medical appointments or discharging themselves from hospital against their doctors' advice because they cannot afford to pay for cover while they are ill.

Gerard Greene, chief executive of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI), said: "Of course we're disappointed at Mr Pengelly's comments.

"We're aware that funding of community pharmacy has been the subject of much debate over the last 10 years, which is why the Department of Health was asked by the courts to carry out an analysis of what it costs to run the service.

"The subsequent PwC report identified the cost of the service and the shortfall.

"This was further backed up by the recent Northern Ireland Affairs Committee review, which also stated that community pharmacy here is underfunded.

"We understand that there are a lot of competing pressures in the health service, but Mr Pengelly has described it as a fantastic resource," he said.

"Under the transformation agenda, more work is being shifted left into the community, but the funding has to follow and that isn't happening at the moment. As it stands, community pharmacists are dispensing medication at a loss, pharmaceutical wholesalers have even warned the Department of Health that community pharmacists are finding it increasingly difficult to pay for medication.

"Obviously, if the supply of medication is impacted, this will impact on the supply to patients and there is the risk that patients will go without their medication.

"This then results in unplanned attendances at emergency departments and people needing to see their GP and we know GP and emergency services are already under massive pressure."

Mr Greene said CPNI is seeking a meeting with Health Minister Robin Swann to impress on him the importance of adequate funding for the service.

"The situation we are in is serious, we have an increasing workload, funding isn't sufficient and we have a workforce crisis as well," he said.

"There are already concerns about the supply of medicines with Brexit, so we need to ensure the stability of the service in the coming months."

Belfast Telegraph