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harmacy services in Ireland are getting back to normal, after pharmacists were urged late last week by their Union to “to resume normal services immediately in the interests of patient safety.”

The Executive of the Irish Pharmacy Union [IPU] also said it was essential to end the industrial action in order to prevent a recurrence of recent “chaotic scenes” which occurred since many pharmacists stopped providing dispensing services under the State Drugs Schemes on August 1, in protest against cuts in their fees.

While the Health Service Executive (HSE) has described as “superbly effective” the nine contingency pharmacies set up throughout the country during the dispute, IPU president Liz Hoctor told an emergency meeting in Dublin late last week that “the idea that the Air Corps would be drafted in to support the HSE in rural Ireland or that a firm of solicitors paid for out of taxpayer’s money would be threatening legal action against pharmacists testifies to the failure of the plan.”

That failure also demonstrated clearly to the HSE and the Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, “the importance of pharmacists to the health services - which they obviously did not understand or appreciate,” she added.

Ms Hoctor acknowledged that some progress had been made since the strike began; for example, the Minister has assured the IPU that “she will not seek to remove a cent more than 133 million euros from the sector on foot of these cuts, and not the 169 million euros that we feared would follow,” said Ms Hoctor. Ms Harney has also agreed to conduct a review by June 30 next year of the new fees and rates for dispensing under the Schemes which she introduced on July 1, and to create a dialogue involving pharmacists on the future and developing the role of the profession. “We will engage vigorously and urgently with that process,” said Ms Hoctor.

However, she added that some of the issues which caused this dispute have not been resolved and warned that further disruption to services is almost inevitable if they are not. “The bottom line is that the cuts which the Minister has forced through will have a very real and detrimental impact on the quality of patient care which community pharmacists can provide,” she said.

Moreover, any attempt by the HSE to place obstacles in the way of any pharmacist who decides to resume normal services “will be met with a very swift response,” Ms Hoctor warned.

Late last week, the HSE confirmed that it was immediately putting in place arrangements to ensure that the pharmacies which had terminated their Community Pharmacy Contractor Agreement with the Executive could resume dispensing under the three State Drug Schemes - the General Medical Scheme (GMS), the Drug Payment Scheme (DPS) and the LTI/Mark-Up Scheme - as quickly as possible.

Meantime, yesterday’s Sunday Independent newspaper reported that pharmacies in Ireland earned almost 400 million euros in fees for dispensing under the Schemes last year. Virtually every one of Ireland’s 1,500-plus pharmacies recorded “significant increases in fee payments” during the year, with one reporting an increase 82% and 10 pharmacies together accounting for nearly 10 million euros-worth of fees, it says, quoting a new report from the HSE