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Because of human nature, being at the head of the IPU is something akin to coaching the Irish rugby team, writes Fintan Moore

It often strikes me that working in the upper echelons of the IPU must be a lot like being the head coach of the Irish rugby team. When things go wrong, there is a slew of negative comment online, but when things go right, you don’t get the equivalent amount of positive reaction. A lot of that is down to human nature. People prefer to complain at length in different ways when upset, whereas if they’re happy, they tend to be quietly content. The situation for the IPU is even tougher in ways, given pharmacists have spent years in a version of the Red Queen’s race in Alice Through the Looking Glass, where “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

Keeping pharmacists pretty much in the same place has been an achievement, but it’s not the kind of thing that gets you commemorated with a statue. Nevertheless, it’s worth thinking back to the aftermath of the 2009 strike, when many of us, including myself, reckoned that the following years would see many pharmacies close. The only issue of debate in most discussions was whether the bottom 5 or 10 per cent would shut, or could the numbers get worse again. Rolling forward to 2021 and we actually have hundreds more pharmacies open now than in 2009, so it’s fair to say that the IPU has been doing something right. If the opposite had happened and hundreds were closing, then I’m sure people would be accusing the IPU of not doing enough.

Of course, it’s not all sweetness and light at the coalface. We’re still waiting on some kind of FEMPI reversal, but we’re not alone there. Talk to any dentist who operates the DTSS, and you’ll find they’re not too happy either. The IMO has clawed money back, but they have also had the GP visit cards rammed down their surgeries for under-sixes and over-70s, with all the associated paperwork. Over the last few years we got screwed on the return of stock because of the nonsensical ‘10-day rule’.

The operation of the various schemes has gotten more complex, with restrictions on phased dispensing and dispensing of ONS, diabetic test strips and Versatis. The High-Tech hub is bit of a pain in the backside, but that’s counterbalanced by the fact that we can’t be guilt-tripped or pressurised into giving emergency supplies because some hospital consultants or their staff aren’t doing their jobs. The Hardship Scheme is still a hardship — for the pharmacists who choose to do it — if we all stopped, then it would be fixed within a month. The other obvious cluster-fudge in our working life is the operation of FMD scanning, which should be a priority for review, rather than passed off as a done deal.

So it’s easy to list what’s wrong, and that’s not even the full kit and caboodle of irritants. On the plus side, the introduction of MAP for medical card patients at a fair fee was a solid achievement. Getting a reasonable rate for flu vaccinations took a few years and a pandemic, but we have it now. The IPU staff do a great job adapting to changing regulations and CPD requirements, especially over the last 12 months. Having up-to-date information and SOPs available to download is a great time- and money-saver. Like the downsides list, this isn’t a comprehensive list of the upsides. The big question going forward is a bit like the head coach question — would change be a change for the better, or would it just be change for the sake of change?

Cheap and nasty

Shoplifting in retail pharmacy is one of those inevitabilities, like death and taxes. My potential losses get minimised somewhat by tending not to have much of value worth taking. We have sorted out some issues by just having empty boxes on display for razor blades, with the actual stock behind the counter. However, we can’t protect everything, so we still get some attention from the light-fingered brigade. We had a trio of females in recently who managed a sweep of a few items, despite being watched by a staff member who instantly thought they were dodgy.

When we watched back on the cameras, we saw that they managed to slickly steal about half a dozen items. The funny thing was that they selected the cheapest crap in the fake tan section, and took make-up testers instead of stock. Their total haul had a retail value of about €13. If they put that kind of effort into a proper job, they would do better in life.

Joining the dots

The other inevitability for a lot of pharmacies is being the victim of more serious crime, especially armed raids with the threat of violence, and occasionally actual violence. If this happens, it is worth being aware that the gardaí are not particularly good at connecting different crimes that were clearly carried out by the same offender. As an example, a few years ago, both my pharmacy and another in the same area were raided a few days apart by a guy in motorcycle gear and helmet, who escaped on a very distinctive motorbike. When the scumbag got arrested for our robbery because of the outside CCTV of the motorbike, the gardaí would never have connected him to the other raid, except for the fact that a locum pharmacist worked in both places and immediately saw the obvious link.

So I’m not sure how it might be organised, or by whom, but a central database of information on all pharmacy raids could be a useful tool. There is a limited number of these raiders, and a lot of them are repeat offenders. They almost inevitably get out on bail and are liable to carry out more raids while waiting for trial. If there was a pooled record of all these crimes, including uploaded CCTV footage, available to pharmacists then we would be able to see the links ourselves and pass this on to the relevant gardaí.

<strong>Fintan Moore</strong>
Fintan Moore

Fintan Moore graduated as a pharmacist in 1990 from TCD and currently runs a pharmacy in Clondalkin.