Primary care is and should be the central part of our national health service. This morning, 506 people are on trolleys across the country. The Sláintecare report, which was shared and signed up to by every party in this House, emphasises primary care and investing in community services so that people can be more engaged in their own health and well-being. Pharmacy is a key part of primary care and community pharmacists constitute a key part of that. They are essential if we are to address the crisis in hospitals and in so many other aspects of our health service.
The Minister for Health gave very solemn assurances at the conference of the Irish Pharmacy Union last May that he would address the FEMPI cuts, which took 30% out of the incomes of our community pharmacists around the country. He said that he wanted to move beyond FEMPI to a higher terrain and to move discussions on a new pharmacists' contract. He said "Let's get that done this year." It was the usual practice from the Minister - tell them what they want to hear, run away and have no follow up. The reality for community pharmacists is that after the cut in their income of 33% the Minister then came along and said that the HSE had instructed pharmacists that as of 1 January, there would be a range of cuts to their income, services and fees aside from the new contract. For many pharmacies, this range of cuts could take between €30,000 to €35,000 out of their income, which will lead to redundancies in pharmacies and to pharmacy closures in so many areas. Again, it will undermine primary care services. Not only will dispensing fees be reduced, the practice of phased dispensing, which is a safer and more efficient way of dispensing drugs, will be made unviable for many pharmacies putting patients in danger. There will be a reduction in the high-tech care patient care scheme. This is a system that pharmacies have embraced for three years that reduces pressure on GPs and emergency departments. They have done this at a very basic cost that will be reduced even further.
We had fine words from the Minister. He keeps patting community pharmacists on the head and telling them they are doing a great job. He spoke about going to a higher terrain in his usual language but the reality is that if these cuts proceed, this higher terrain will be a marsh in which pharmacies, including community pharmacies, will sink. Why is the Government doing an absolute U-turn on the very solemn commitments given by the Minister in May? Why is it proceeding to take €45 million out of community pharmacy? Why is it targeting community pharmacists for these cuts unlike any other part of primary care?