Some key points from the Society’s latest annual report, which showed a low number of complaints relative to the number of interactions with the public

The PSI has published its annual report for 2020, which provides an overview of the pharmacy regulator’s activities during the year to promote public and patient health and safety by regulating pharmacists and pharmacies. Despite the unprecedented challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, the PSI undertook a substantial work programme across the year, including a range of actions in support of the public health response to the crisis, it stated.

Key activities for the PSI during 2020 included:

  • A range of significant initiatives to ensure the continuity of safe services for patients and the public in community pharmacies, including working with the Department of Health on emergency legislative provisions, with the HSE on contingency planning for pharmacies, and the development of new Covid-19 Operational Standards for community pharmacies.
  • Supporting 42 pharmacists and two pharmaceutical assistants to return to practise for the duration of the pandemic.
  • Progressing a digital transformation programme, including the development of a new registration system, which will be launched later in 2021.
  • Adding 320 pharmacists to the professional register, bringing the total number at the end of the year to 6,767, up from 6,506 in 2019 and 6,246 in 2018.
  • Conducting 100 registration related inspections and 124 pharmacy inspections.
  • Registering 1,968 pharmacies, up slightly on 2019 (1,956).
  • Maintaining the Internet Supply List, which included 128 pharmacies and 78 non-pharmacies at the end of 2020. This compares to 51 pharmacies and 81 non-pharmacies in 2019.
  • Reviewing 184 concerns received in relation to matters where a person wants to bring something to the attention of the PSI but does not wish to make a formal complaint. Thirty-seven formal complaints were also considered by the regulator during the year.

Mr Niall Byrne, Registrar and Chief Officer, said that “the PSI had entered into 2020, as any other year, with extensive plans to further the quality of pharmacy in Ireland. We then found ourselves having to pivot quickly to ensure that we continued to deliver on our statutory remit while also recognising the challenging environment in which we, together with everyone else in Ireland, found ourselves. We worked closely with the Department of Health at the very early stages of the pandemic on emergency legislation provisions that focused on ensuring the continued care and treatment of patients during the pandemic, including arrangements for national electronic prescription transfers.”

These Standards provide guidance and support to those in leadership and governance positions in the retail pharmacy sector in continuing to ensure safe services and a safe environment for patients, public and staff

Working in collaboration with practising pharmacists, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU), the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health, the PSI also developed new Covid-19 Operational Standards. “These Standards provide guidance and support to those in leadership and governance positions in the retail pharmacy sector in continuing to ensure safe services and a safe environment for patients, public and staff during the pandemic. They are also intended to assure patients and the wider public that their pharmacy is, indeed, a safe and supportive healthcare environment during this pandemic and indeed beyond.” 

The implementation of these standards is continuing this year with the PSI carrying out visits to pharmacies, it said. “We want to understand how pharmacy owners, superintendent and supervising pharmacists are considering their services against the standards and how they are adapting them when needed,” said Mr Byrne.

According to Mr Byrne, the PSI’s digital transformation programme continued in 2021, including in areas that hadn’t been originally anticipated as a result of the pandemic. “We committed under our 2018-2020 Corporate Strategy to building the PSI as an agile and high-performing organisation.

A key enabler of this is our Business Transformation Programme. We pushed forward with this during 2020 through an extensive programme of work, focusing particularly on the development of a new registration system that will be launched later this year, providing registrants with a single online point of contact with the PSI.

“Additionally, we were able to move to holding remote hearings of fitness to practise inquiries in December 2020, with the support of new technology. We were pleased to embrace technology in this respect, recognising that an important aspect of any fitness to practise or disciplinary matter is that all parties can have finality to the matter in as short a time as possible,” he said.

During 2020, 184 (2019: 144) concerns were received by the PSI, while 37 (2019: 74) formal complaints were considered by the PSI’s Preliminary Proceedings Committee (PPC), which decides whether further disciplinary action is taken in relation to a complaint. Mr Byrne noted that the number of concerns and complaints made to the PSI regarding pharmacists remains very low relative to the number of interactions which the public has with pharmacists and pharmacies annually.

“Every concern and complaint is viewed as a potentially serious matter and treated accordingly. However, these figures reflect the continued high standards to which pharmacists worked during 2020 during a very challenging year for them and for their pharmacy teams.” 

Looking forward, Mr Byrne said it is important that the PSI continues to facilitate ongoing development within the community pharmacy sector, ensuring continued high-quality and, where necessary, enhanced healthcare provision by pharmacists. “The PSI’s focus will remain on assuring the continued provision of safe, quality healthcare within pharmacies and ensuring that pharmacists maintain high standards and enjoy the continued trust of the public. This firmly underpins our new Corporate Strategy for 2021-2023, developed during 2020, which sets out our key priorities for the next three years,” he said.

The full report is available to download at http://www.psi.ie