I propose to take Questions Nos. 380, 395 and 402 together.
As the Minster for Health I recognise the significant role community pharmacists play in the delivery of patient care and the potential for this role to be developed further in the context of health service reform and modernisation. Community pharmacy is recognised as the most accessible element of our health service with an unequalled reach in terms of patient contact and access, regardless of their geographic location or status as either an independent retailer or as part of a larger chain of providers.
The regulations governing the current pharmacy fee structure were made under section 9 of the FEMPI Act 2009 and are set to expire at the end of 2019. Under the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017, these regulations must be replaced on 1 January 2020 to maintain a statutory basis for contractor payments and to prescribe the fees payable from that date. The fees to be set are determined by the Minister for Health, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
In keeping with my obligations under Section 43 of the 2017 Act, Department of Health officials have begun a process of consultation with the IPU, as the representative body, prior to the introduction of new fee regulations. My officials have met with an IPU delegation on two occasions and a detailed submission was received from the IPU on 8 November.
That submission is currently being considered by my Department in the context of the statutory fee-setting process as referred to.
In May of this year I addressed the Irish Pharmaceutical Union at the National Pharmacy Conference and gave a commitment to move beyond the arrangements underpinned by the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009 (FEMPI) with a view to optimising the role of pharmacists in the years ahead. It is my intention to open contract discussions in 2020 which will assist to deliver on the commitment given.
The way forward will require the expansion of both the scope of practice and range of public services provided in community pharmacy. An overriding principle in the engagement with pharmacy representatives should be value for money ensuring that any new service delivery actually improves health outcomes and benefits for patients.