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The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has welcomed the announcement that an expert taskforce to support the expansion of the role of pharmacists in Irish healthcare will be established. The move could deliver a revolution in community care, according to the IPU. The Union states it is important that the final recommendations produced by the taskforce will be implemented without delay. According to the Department of Health, the taskforce will examine how pharmacists can be enabled to operate at the top of their licence for the benefit of patients and the wider health service.

It will initially consider options to enable pharmacists to extend prescriptions for a range of medicines and medical conditions where appropriate. The taskforce will also advise on a comprehensive approach to facilitate pharmacist prescribing.

This will include, but not be limited to, empowering pharmacists to assess and prescribe for common minor ailments within a community pharmacy setting and to use their expertise to operate as independent prescribers. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said these initiatives would make it easier and faster for patients to get the medication they need. “Pharmacists are highly trained, valued healthcare professionals who already use their extensive training and expertise in medicines to help people every day,” the Minister said.

“They were tremendous partners during the recent Covid-19 pandemic and made a hugely positive contribution to our vaccination programme. “Empowering pharmacists to use their expertise to assess and treat certain ailments will help patients get the care they need sooner and closer to home – but the benefits go much further.
It can help reduce demand on hospitals, walk-in clinics, and GP practices.” The taskforce will be chaired by Dr Pat O’Mahony, and includes representatives from the HSE, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI), the Irish College of General Practitioners, as well as academic/training bodies. The IPU has been campaigning for several years for an expansion in the role of Irish community pharmacies. This has included a range of recommendations to deliver enhanced patient care from the convenience of local pharmacies. However, the IPU has also warned that significant underfunding of the sector will need to be addressed to empower this expansion. Welcoming the announcement, Mr Derek Reilly, interim Secretary General of the IPU, said: “Community pharmacies are ready, willing, and able to do more for their patients. We warmly welcome the establishment of this taskforce, which will undoubtedly identify many opportunities to improve healthcare in our communities.” “The Irish public already deeply value the role of their pharmacist, and the pharmacy network is the most accessed  and accessible aspect of our health system. Expanding the profession’s role will allow our 1,900 community pharmacies to function at the very heart of the healthcare system.” Mr Reilly has, however, warned that fees paid to pharmacists, which are lower now than they were in 2009, will need to be addressed as a priority. “The pharmacy profession had to endure substantial fee cuts during the recession and remains the only healthcare profession who has not had fees restored. For each medicine dispensed on behalf of the State the fees received today are 24 per cent lower than 14 years ago, while costs continue to rise. While this review of services is welcome, it cannot be done in isolation without reviewing the funding of pharmacies.” The PSI has also welcomed the announcement to establish the taskforce. PSI Registrar and Chief Officer, Ms Joanne Kissane, said: “We welcome the announcement by Minister Donnelly and look forward to contributing to this important work in partnership with health stakeholders.” “We believe the move to establish a taskforce is an important step in examining the ways in which the scope of pharmacists can be expanded upon, utilising their extensive medicines expertise and education and training for the benefit of patients and the public.” The taskforce has been asked to provide its first recommendations to the Minister as early as October 2023.