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The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has urged the Department of Health to recruit a Chief Pharmacy Officer (CPO) as a matter of priority. The appointment of a CPO, the IPU argues, would ensure that medicine supply is consistently addressed at the most senior levels of the health service, as well as ensuring a strategic vision for the future of community-based pharmacy care within the Department of Health. 

CPOs exist in many other healthcare systems, including our nearest neighbours in Northern Ireland, England, and Scotland, as well as in many US states. The role typically involves policy and strategy development, national oversight of medicine supply, pharmacy regulations and maximising the potential of the community pharmacy sector to achieve better patient outcomes at a local level. 

Speaking at the IPU AGM, at which pharmacists voted in favour of the immediate recruitment of the CPO role, President Dermot Twomey outlined the necessity for the position. “Medicines are the most significant healthcare intervention for our population and having a CPO is clearly in the interests of Irish patients,” he said. 

“Ireland currently has a Chief Medical Officer, Chief Nursing Officer, Chief Dentistry Officer, and a Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO). All support essential aspects of Irish healthcare, or animal welfare in the case of the CVO. However, none of their respective areas could function without the pharmacy sector. It is inappropriate in 2022 that medicine supply and the strategic direction of the community and hospital pharmacy sectors is an afterthought at the highest levels of the health service. 

“The absence of an Irish CPO makes us an outlier in modern healthcare systems,” he continued. “Those jurisdictions that have created such a position have demonstrated the value it represents. For example, pharmacists in Scotland operate according to a clear national pharmacy strategy, which is integrated into the wider health service. Through this simple but effective structure, pharmacists’ specialist knowledge in medicines is utilised to best effect for people’s health and wellbeing. Why can’t we take a similar approach here?” 

Several recent challenges encountered by the community pharmacy sector highlight the need for this appointment, Mr Twomey argued. “There was an inexplicable delay enlisting community pharmacy as part of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign. This delay was then repeated when it came to the booster campaign, when pharmacists were initially not included for no logical reason, and despite the clear public demand within our local communities. I believe the delayed booster roll-out in particular would not have happened if a CPO had been in place. Community pharmacies are currently being inundated with patients concerned about the shortage of HRT medication to treat symptoms associated with the menopause. Again, a CPO would help to address this through a concerted national action plan. 

“The Irish State spent €2.3 billion on medications in 2020. In that context alone, the expense of setting up an office to oversee this spend seems modest and justified,” Mr Twomey argued. “Medicine supply and the regulation of pharmacies is a complex web of several different bodies. The complexity and bureaucracy of our system is one of the main reasons Ireland often lags behind other countries in the introduction of new medications to treat patients. When there is no single individual with oversight of the entire sector, it is easy to see how it fails to evolve.”