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Road-blocks, U-turns and whiplash

By Pat Kelly - 10th Jan 2020

January 2020

At the National Pharmacy Conference last May, it was with guarded optimism that I listened to the Minister for Health paint a picture of a rosy immediate future for Irish pharmacists, with gushing enthusiasm for the role pharmacists play in healthcare and a commitment, if somewhat vague, to new contract talks. With a forest of hands ready to shoot up towards the ceiling, the Minister had a clearly ‘pressing commitment’ and wasn’t around for the Q&A after his address. The optimist in me imagined that he was rushing back to his office to work on drafting a new contract.

Fast-forward to October, when the bombshell dropped that new, savage cuts were to be imposed on pharmacy fees. There was a collective ‘thud’ as around 2,300 jaws hit the floor in community pharmacies nationwide — 2,301, if you include the offices of Irish Pharmacist. I took no pleasure in having my cynicism confirmed.

Taking another time-jump to December — having already penned the most scathing editorial I’ve ever written — and it was abruptly announced that the proposed fee cuts were not going ahead and the Minister had re-committed to new contract talks. The proposed cuts were confusing, but no less so than the Minister’s reversal. The editorial found its new home in the recycle bin. As the old saying goes, that kind of raised more questions than it answered. Who proposed these cuts in the first place before they were announced? Was it a decision by the Minister himself, or was he influenced by some clueless advisors who foolishly thought hammering pharmacists further would be a good idea? What happened in between the announcement that cuts would be imposed and the press release stating that they would not in fact go ahead? And even if he was badly advised on imposing further cuts, what the hell was Minister Harris thinking in going along with it? Was he not concerned about being perceived as something of a hypocrite, given the contents of his address at the National Pharmacy Conference?

But most intriguing of all, what happened at the meeting between the IPU representatives and Minister Harris on 5 December? Was he cajoled, persuaded, or did Mssrs Connolly and O’Loughlin bring along Luca Brasi to make the Minister an ‘offer he couldn’t refuse’? Whatever they did, it clearly worked and the Minister must have required treatment for whiplash injury. Perhaps a Sir Humphrey-type figure had a quiet word in the Minister’s ear to remind him that pharmacists vote too. With a general election on the horizon, the cynic in me is tugging at my sleeve, warning of another potential volte face when that small matter is put to bed.

Not withstanding all of the above, I sincerely wish all of our readers a smooth ride in 2020 along the road to a hopefully bright future for the profession. 

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