Written Answers. - Community Pharmacy Services.

Seamus Brennan

Question:

228 Mr. S. Brennan asked the Minister for Health the plans, if any, he has to compensate employee pharmacists who may be denied a general medical services contract on the establishment of a pharmacy where there would have been a reasonable expectation of such a contract prior to 31 May 1996; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16625/96]

Seamus Brennan

Question:

229 Mr. S. Brennan asked the Minister for Health his views on the growth of pharmacy chains and the operation of pharmacies owned by non-pharmacists; his views on the different regulatory procedures for pharmacies in the European Union, such as in Germany, where an individual may only control one pharmacy which must be operated on a sole trader basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16626/96]

Seamus Brennan

Question:

230 Mr. S. Brennan asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to a level of dissent among pharmacists on the new contract for health services; if he will quantify the acceptance level to make the contract viable; if he will quantify the level of rejection to render it unacceptable to his Department; the cost implications of operating two systems of pharmacy reimbursement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16627/96]

Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 228, 229 and 230 together. Agreement was reached earlier this year with the Irish Pharmaceutical Union which is the negotiating body for community pharmacists, on a package of measures for the provision of community pharmacy services under the Health Acts. The main purpose of the agreement is to enhance the professional role of the community pharmacist and to improve the quality of services provided to the public. The main features of this package are a new contract for the provision of all community pharmacy services under the Health Act, 1970 which is pro-active in promoting a quality driven and cost effective service for patients; the introduction of appropriate accountability arrangements in the operation of the community drugs schemes; a new more effective and safer arrangement for the dispensing of high-tech drugs through community pharmacies; a programme of continuing education to improve standards and an upgrading of information technology to improve efficiency in community pharmacies and communication between pharmacies, health boards and the GMS (Payments) Board and a system of regulating the granting of pharmacy contracts in accordance with public health criteria which will facilitate better patient access to pharmacy services and improve standards by maintaining viability.

As indicated earlier, the IPU, which is the recognised negotiating body on behalf of community pharmacists, has accepted this agreement. The new contract, which forms part of the agreement, is currently in the process of being signed by contract holders. The Department is not aware of any difficulty in relation to the acceptance of the new contract by individual contract holders. Accordingly, the question of the viability of the new contract or the operation of two systems of pharmacy reimbursement is not expected to become an issue.

An integral feature of the overall package agreed with the IPU was the introduction of new Regulations under section 59 (4) of the Health Act, 1970 regulating the issue of new contracts for the provision of pharmacy services under the Act. The reasons for this are primarily twofold, namely (i) to maintain the viability of existing pharmacies in order to enable them to meet the increased requirements of the new contract in regard to the provision of a professional, quality-driven and accountable community pharmacy service and (ii) to bring the regulation of community pharmacy contracts in Ireland into line with other EU/EEA member states where such controls exist in one form or another.

Pharmacists will be able to apply for a new contract in accordance with the regulations. In this regard it should be noted that the regulations contain a "grandfather" clause which provides that a contract will be granted where an application is made before 1 January 1997 and the applicant can show that he/she had, in the twelve months prior to the making of the regulations, entered into a financial commitment for the procurement of a premises for the specific purpose of opening a community pharmacy. In addition the regulations do not preclude employee pharmacists from taking over existing contracts, from the management of existing pharmacies or from applying for a new contract. Furthermore, the increased requirements of the new contract in regard to the provision of an improved community pharmacy service will require a greater professional input by pharmacists thereby increasing the job opportunities for community pharmacists.
The position in regard to the ownership of pharmacies, as provided for in the Pharmacy Acts, is that pharmacies can be owned only by a pharmacist or a company. However, all pharmacies, whether owned by a company or a pharmacist must be managed by a registered pharmaceutical chemist and the dispensing and compounding of medical prescriptions must be carried out by or under the personal supervision of a pharmacist. Accordingly, I am satisfied that the requisite level of professional control and supervision is available in all pharmacies.