I welcome the opportunity to raise this issue with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. Every pharmacist in the country has been up in arms since it first came to light last week. I will cut to the chase. In recent years, I have interacted with the Minister and his Department in this Chamber and in committee, both privately and publicly. The Minister, in his interactions with the Irish Pharmacy Union, IPU, gave strong indications that he was willing to engage with the pharmacy sector to make headway in rolling out what is now an underutilised service, getting better value from pharmacists, negotiating a new contract and commencing the reversal of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, in 2020.
I should point out at this stage that, as a pharmacist and owner of a pharmacy, I have an obvious conflict of interest, but I am here representing the pharmacists of the country. The announcement last week of a further three potential cuts to payments made to pharmacists flies in the face of every discussion the Minister and I have had. I have always taken the Minister as a man of his word and an honourable person. I simply cannot believe what happened last week. What is being proposed will take a minimum of €25,000 from the bottom line of every pharmacy in the country. That is on foot of cut after cut. There has not been an increase in fees for more than ten years. Pharmacists are working night and day trying to keep our businesses viable and this is the straw that will break the camel's back. As the Minister knows, pharmacists as a group are non-antagonistic and non-confrontational. They are co-operative and willing, as is their representative organisation, the IPU. On this occasion, however, things have gone too far.
Regarding the reversal of FEMPI, the Minister has often stated that changed practices are needed. In the previous three years, pharmacists have taken 12 different actions that have saved the system money. We have done that without getting one cent extra in payment. For example, non-oral anticoagulants are provided to hundreds of thousands of patients every week in our pharmacies. We do all of the associated administration work and when patients come in with unsanctioned prescriptions, we do all of the work and give them their medication. In many such cases, we do not even get reimbursed for the first month until the patient gets sanctioned. There would be chaos if we sent those patients back to their consultants and doctors.
Dealing with the high-tech ordering, monitoring and management hub and sanctioning high-tech and critical medication for thousands of patients takes hours of pharmacists' time every week. All this additional work has been taken on by pharmacists free of charge. The Department now proposes to cut the high-tech fee for medications such as Entresto, Fampyra, Fumaderm and Prolia. Three months ago, there was a major cut in what is allowed in the area of oral nutritional supplements. We have been working with patients and their doctors and consultants to let them know what is reimbursable so that patients can go out the door with their vital medication.
This is not the way to commence negotiations on reversing FEMPI or agreeing a new contract for pharmacists. The Minister addressed the IPU annual conference and gave a firm assurance, which he also gave me at a committee meeting, that he wants to work with pharmacists and wants to roll out a new contract that will bring about a better system and fairer payments. The Minister cannot allow this proposal to proceed. I do not want to hear from him that the Department is doing this. He is the Minister and this is his Government. We have put our faith in him and I expect him to honour his commitments.