By Jeremy Meader
As the largest pharmacy wholesaler in Northern Ireland, we understandably take a keen interest in the financial stability of the customers we serve. It is apparent to us that much needed long-term stable funding is simply not there and the sector is sliding towards financial crisis.
The Department’s recent offer of £5.3m falls far short of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland’s (CPNI) estimate of what is required to address a £20—30m funding reduction. And almost £5m of that £5.3m figure is in the form of a loan which needs to be paid back.
Part of the problem lies with linking the Drug Tariff in Northern Ireland with that in England. Scotland has its own arrangements so why not in Northern Ireland?
Customers tell us that they have never seen such astronomical prices and fluctuations which combined with medicine shortages and under-funding poses a significant risk to patient access to essential care.
These are not created by wholesalers, but a reimbursement mechanism which is no longer fit-for-purpose for today’s medicine supply chain in Northern Ireland.
It simply cannot be acceptable that if the situation deteriorates further there is a real risk that community pharmacists may no longer be able to afford to pay for commonly prescribed drugs used to treat health conditions including osteoporosis, high blood pressure, insomnia, mental health and coronary conditions as CPNI recently warned MLAs, ministers and officials.
Time then to rethink medicine reimbursement arrangements and make those work in the best interests of the sector and patients of Northern Ireland. We need to see the kind of support strategy and sustainable funding we see in Scotland.
Of course, matters are more complex in Northern Ireland given the current political stalemate, but our customers are facing a perfect storm of under-funding; Cat M adjustments; increasing prices; increasing cost to do business; and paying back advance payments.
No business or organisation can sensibly plan for and invest in the future when its future funding flows are so insecure and unpredictable.
To their credit, at the height of the COVID pandemic, ministers and officials did recognise the invaluable role of community pharmacy as the third pillar of access to essential patient care. Now that we have come through that the department seems to have forgotten the experience.
We can’t deliver for patients in Northern Ireland when community pharmacy faces constant on-going financial crisis.
Jeremy Meader is managing director of Numark.