The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health was recently told that there is significant untapped potential in Ireland’s community pharmacy sector. Addressing the Committee, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) outlined a series of proposals to expand the range of services available at pharmacies, which will improve patient care and relieve pressure on the health system.
President of the Irish Pharmacy Union and Cloyne-based pharmacist Dermot Twomey said: “Community pharmacy is recognised as the most accessible element of our health service. There is a pharmacy in nearly every town and village in the Country, with 85 per cent of our population living within 5km of one. Community pharmacy provides a ready-to-go health infrastructure which we believe can be utilised better.”
Pharmacies are committed to the Sláintecare ethos, according to Mr Twomey. “This centres around ensuring that the right care is delivered in the right place, at the right time, for all patients. We believe there is tremendous potential to realise this ambition by better utilising the skill set of pharmacists, by facilitating them to work to their full scope of practice.”
Among the recommendations the IPU will outline to the Committee is the introduction of a minor ailment or triage service. Under this scheme, public patients with minor self-limiting conditions would no longer require GP appointments. Instead, they could consult with their local community pharmacy team, receive an assessment of their symptoms followed by a combination of advice, medication supply and/or referral to other services. This scheme can be extended by increasing the number of treatments available directly from the pharmacist so as to widen healthcare access for both public and private patients.
“This is a clear example of an opportunity to radically reimagine the delivery of timely care within the community and deliver cost-effective, safe and desired health outcomes. It has the potential to free-up GP capacity by eliminating the need for over one million appointments a year,” said Mr Twomey.
Whilst the IPU welcomed the introduction of free contraception and its further planned expansion, the organisation believes that reducing barriers to accessing contraception is required.
“Research has shown that many women, both in Ireland and internationally, would prefer to obtain contraception from the pharmacist. Making contraception available direct from pharmacies would provide the patient with greater choice and also serve to reduce pressure on GPs,” said the Union.
The IPU will call for the more effective utilisation of pharmacists to manage medicine shortages. “Facilitating substitution, where there is a shortage of medicines, without the need to revert to the prescriber, will speed-up supply and reduce the stress on patients, pharmacists and doctors.
“To fully deliver on their potential, the sector must be adequately resourced, with pharmacies receiving fair reimbursement for the services it provides on behalf of the State. Pharmacy fees have not changed since 2008 and have not kept in line with crippling inflation. Our average dispensing fee is now lower than it was in 2008, nearly 15 years ago. We require action to support the sector in order for it to continue expanding its range of services”, Mr Twomey informed the Committee members.
Concluding, Twomey said: “As a country, we need to take a more proactive approach to the management of pharmaceutical care in general. One of the most fundamental and seismic changes which should be prioritised to unlock the potential of community pharmacy is to develop an agreed national strategy for pharmaceutical care to deliver better health outcomes for patients. This should be owned by the Minister for Health and driven by the appointment of a Chief Pharmaceutical Officer within the Department of Health.”