The Department of Health is establishing an emergency review of community pharmacy services in Northern Ireland in light of the ongoing pressures facing the sector.
The review will aim to define the services that can be reliably delivered this winter and will provide certainty to the public and the Health and Social Care system.
Community pharmacy representatives continue to raise serious concerns about rising costs facing their members.
There has been a constructive approach to partnership working between the Department and Community Pharmacy NI during the last three years. Significant additional investment in the sector was made between 2019/20 and 2021/22, to ensure that community pharmacies were able to provide essential frontline support during the COVID-19 emergency.
This constructive approach has also led to agreement on a three-year Commissioning Plan for 2022-25, with a dedicated work programme providing community pharmacies with the potential to deliver new HSC services worth Pound 7m such as a 'Pharmacy First' service for common conditions, as well as an additional Pound 3.5m for vaccination services and consideration of further funding for medicines adherence services.
This year, the Department has developed a further financial package worth over Pound 5.3m in value. This package is currently being implemented.
However, sector representatives have indicated that the package will not be sufficient.
The Department is very conscious of the challenges facing community pharmacies. Similarly, the Department itself and all parts of the HSC system are experiencing severe pressures - the Department is still without a confirmed budget for 2022/23 with a significant overspend projected for the year. Financial constraints are expected to continue and potentially deepen further in forthcoming years.
An emergency review of all community pharmacy services was previously completed at the start of the pandemic, in light of the pressures at that time.
Department of Health Permanent Secretary Peter May has offered to meet with Community Pharmacy NI next week to discuss the situation facing the sector.