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The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has welcomed the increase in healthcare spending but said it must be delivered in communities as well as hospitals. Speaking following the announcement of Budget 2021, IPU Secretary General Mr Darragh O’Loughlin said: “… We heard details of an unprecedented €4 billion spending increase in healthcare. This has potential to do a huge amount of good, not only in dealing with the current crisis, but also responding to future healthcare needs. However, while any increase in healthcare spending is welcome, the Government must do more than pour money into the hospital system while paying only lip service to primary and community-based care.

“The Covid crisis has shown us the importance of increasing capacity in our hospitals. Doing this effectively requires more than just adding beds. We must also improve the care we can deliver in local communities, care which comes without the complexity and expense of hospitals. Indeed, the move to innovative community care was cited during [the] Budget speech. This is at the heart of Sláintecare and it is disappointing that this appears to be largely overlooked yet again.

“The IPU had called on the Government to think innovatively and realise some of the health efficiencies that pharmacies could deliver. Unfortunately… [the] budget appears to lack any such innovation and is therefore a major missed opportunity.

“The IPU has consistently called for the introduction of a pharmacy-based chronic disease management programme and a minor ailment scheme. Both have been proven to work well in other countries, improving patients’ access to healthcare and reducing the burden on GPs and hospitals. This is just two of many examples of how pharmacies can improve our health service. We hope that as more detailed expenditure plans from the Department of Health are compiled, they will realise this potential.

Meanwhile, the IPU has welcomed the announcement that pharmacists will be able to provide a vaccination service outside of the pharmacy premises. Calling it a “game-changer”, Mr O’Loughlin thanked Health Minister Stephen Donnelly for listening to pharmacists, who have been calling for this change for many years.

“We need to do all we can to keep people safe from the flu and protect our health system from its impact. This is more important this year than ever before, as we face into a winter of dealing with two highly infectious and highly dangerous diseases — influenza and Covid-19. While we do not yet have a vaccine against Covid-19, we do against flu, and we need to encourage uptake of this vaccine by making it as easy as possible for those most at risk to access it. Broadening the locations where pharmacists can vaccinate will significantly increase uptake and will help build immunity from flu among the population.”

Mr O’Loughlin added: “Influenza led to the hospitalisation of over 4,000 people in Ireland during the last flu season, which should be a reminder of the serious nature of the flu. Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, the IPU has consistently called for a significant investment in this year’s national flu vaccination campaign, to keep people safe from flu and protect our health system from overload while we deal with the continuing impact of Covid-19, and we welcomed the expansion in the flu vaccination programme announced by the Minister.

“Research conducted by iReach on behalf of the IPU revealed that fewer than half of all adults (48 per cent) have ever received a flu vaccination. This year, we need to ensure we have the highest possible uptake of the vaccine.”