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.