Roscommon pharmacists to withdraw from medical card scheme

Pauline Scott All 18 of the county’s pharmacists are set to stop their involvement in the medical card scheme on May 1st, as a dispute between pharmacists and the Department of Health worsens. Concerns have been expressed about the repercussions which the move will have for elderly people and those dependant on medication from the medical card scheme. This week Tony Kenny of Age Action Ireland called for political action to ensure that the difficulty is resolved. From May 1st, all of the county’s pharmacists will withdraw from the scheme, suspending their contracts with the HSE, unless Minister Mary Harney agrees to meet with a pharmacists’ representative. ‘It is not a decision that we have taken lightly. It is very regrettable that we have been put in this situation,’ said a pharmacists’ spokesperson. The dispute centres around payment which pharmacies receive for their involvement in the medical card scheme. The amount which pharmacists receive for drugs was cut by 8.2 percent from March of this year and all attempts at resolving the dispute to date have failed. 14 of the county’s 18 pharmacists met in the Percy French Hotel in Strokestown on Monday night last and it is believed that the remaining four pharmacists also support the proposed withdrawal from the medical card scheme. Despite the meeting, pharmacists were anxious to stress that the came to the decision individually. Pharmacists at the meeting said that they believe that by dropping the price to pharmacists, the Minister for Health Mary Harney believed that pharmacists would do a deal with wholesalers to pass on the reduced prices. Drug wholesalers have refused to drop their prices and stalemate ensued. Speaking at the meeting on Monday night, pharmacists said that they were caught in the middle between wholesalers and the HSE. ‘It is with deep regret that we make this decision, our hand is forced,’ said one representative of the pharmacists. We know it’s going to have a huge impact on the older generation, but there is no other option.’ Medication Monday night’s meeting was also addressed by Tony Kenny of Age Action Ireland. Tony, from Ballyforan is also a member of the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament. ‘I think it’s going to be very serious for elderly people, not alone elderly people, but everyone holding a medical card, but elderly people will be hit hardest.’ ‘Financially, elderly people would not have the means to pay for medication,’ said Mr. Kenny, who also pointed out that many elderly people have no transport and may only have one opportunity each week to visit the doctor and get a prescription filled. He also pointed out that many elderly people in the county live in isolation and may not know about the impending action.  ‘I’m hoping that it will be resolved. The HSE aren’t willing to meet the pharmacies. A mediator must be appointed to bring them to the table.’ Mr. Kenny also called on the county’s politicians to get involved: ‘TDs in the county will have to get their act together on this,’ concluded Mr. Kenny. Plans exist for pharmacists to meet with other groups such as the Diabetic Association, the Epilepsy Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Association and other special interest groups.  On Monday night, pharmacists also noted that the GMS Community Drugs Scheme makes up 70 to 75 percent of their prescribing business. They have also complained that they are being denied union status. ‘In this day and age it’s hard to believe that there is a group of people denied union representation,’ said one of the pharmacists present at the meeting. Pharmacists also stressed that the action proposed for May 1st will be called off if Health Minister Mary Harney agrees to a meeting. Failing such a resolution, the HSE will have to find another way of administering the scheme to the country’s medical card holders. ‘We are willing to meet with her and are willing to suggest cost saving measures in the scheme, but she is refusing to meet with individually or collectively.’ Pharmacists in Roscommon are not alone in taking the decision. Almost all pharmacies in Connacht are taking part in the action, and they are joined by pharmacists in Donegal, Clare and Limerick and pharmacists in other counties are expected to make a decision on the matter in coming days. If the action goes ahead, pharmacists pointed out that it will result in job losses and could ultimately result in the closure of some pharmacies.