Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 26 Mar 2019

Vol. 264 No. 9

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

School Building Projects Status

The Minister was delayed by matters of state no doubt. However, he is still very welcome.

I very much appreciate the Minister being here to take this debate. I hope we can find a successful resolution to the issue at Burrow national school in Sutton, which I visited some weeks ago in order to talk to the principal and members of staff.

However, the children are still learning in 20-year-old prefab buildings. In fact, one of the teachers, who is a teacher there now, is a past pupil of Burrow national school and remembers her own primary education taking place there. I want to raise the prefab replacement scheme, which was in place in 2011 and 2012. I seem to remember that the Department of Education and Skills invested in a scheme to achieve two aims, namely, to re-employ people in the construction sector who had fallen foul of the crash and to move children out of prefabricated buildings and ensure that as many as possible of the country's classrooms were permanent structures. Every child deserves to be in a permanent classroom. I am sure the Minister agrees with that. We do not want to see 20-year-old prefabs in any national school in the country. Can we work together to ensure that the children of Burrow national school have permanent classrooms and that these prefabricated buildings are done away with, so those children and the school's future pupils can look forward to a better future? It is a fantastic school that is doing a huge amount, but the children deserve more than the 20-year-old prefabricated structures in which they are learning. I would appreciate a positive response from the Minister.

Tá brón orm go raibh mé mall ag teacht ón Dáil. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir fáchoinne an ceist. I thank the Senator for raising the matter, as it provides me with the opportunity to clarify the current position with respect to Burrow national school, Sutton, Dublin 13. Burrow national school is a co-educational school under Church of Ireland patronage. The current staff of the school consists of the principal, nine mainstream posts, two special educational needs posts and one shared special educational needs post. There are currently 226 pupils enrolled in the school. The Department has no record of an application from Burrow national school seeking funding to replace prefabs. I know the Senator is also making reference to additional accommodation. As he is aware, under the national development plan's framework for the period from 2018 to 2027, my Department has an envelope of €11.9 billion for education infrastructure over the coming decade. This represents a 70% increase in schools capital funding compared to the last decade, rising from €4.9 billion to €8.4 billion. Investment will rise to €1 billion in 2027 compared to €540 million of investment in 2018. The budget for delivery of projects under the school building programme increased from €540 million in 2018 to €622 million in 2019. Under project Ireland 2040 we have continued to make progress to increase our infrastructural capacity in order to meet demographic and other demands.

Construction activity in 2018 and 2019 will involve more than 130 large-scale projects, around 38% of the 340 projects on the list, and around 280 smaller-scale projects under the additional accommodation scheme. These projects will deliver more than 40,000 school places, including additional and replacement places; the replacement of more than 600 prefabs, which is a key element of our prefab replacement programme; enhanced sports facilities through the construction or modernisation of 48 PE halls at post-primary level; and 82 general purpose rooms at primary level. The enhancement and modernisation of PE facilities in schools will also facilitate community usage of these facilities. Construction will also include more than 200 modern science laboratories, which will support the delivery of the reformed science curricula and the roll-out of computer science as a leaving certificate subject. In addition, in April of 2018 my Department announced that 42 new schools would be established in areas of population growth between 2019 and 2022. The focus in 2019 is on start-up interim accommodation for the 17 schools opening in September 2019.

I wish to advise the Senator that since mid-2018 all schools approved for additional accommodation under my Department's additional accommodation scheme are also having all necessary prefabs replaced as part of their additional accommodation project. Therefore, it is open to Burrow national school to submit an application under my Department’s additional school accommodation scheme to address any immediate deficits of accommodation it may have, including the replacement of prefab accommodation. The application form is available on my Department’s website, www.education.ie.

I would once again like to thank the Senator for giving me an opportunity to outline the position to the House and I wish to assure him that should Burrow national school make an application under the additional school accommodation scheme, it will be considered and the decision relayed to the school authority directly.

I wish to assure him that should Burrow national school make an application under the additional school accommodation scheme it will be considered and the decision relayed to the school authority directly.

I thank the Minister for his positive reply. I will make contact with the school and forward that information to it. I appreciate him dealing with the matter in the way that he has and I hope that as a result of his response and the school making such an application we can have a resolution to the accommodation issue at Burrow national school in due course.

It is great to have a happy punter on our hands. I thank the Minister.

Pharmaceutical Sector

I welcome the Minister of State. I have raised this issue previously in the Seanad and with the Department. It relates to pharmaceutical assistants. The pharmaceutical association made a recommendation to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, recently that pharmaceutical assistants, most of whom have operated and worked in pharmacies for the past 35 years, should only be allowed to cover up to one hour per day in place of the pharmacist. That is fine but those people have been doing that job for 35 years during which time they were able to provide cover if the pharmacist was ill or on holidays. They brought a great deal of life experience to their work in pharmacies for the past 35 years but the association is trying to tell them now that their qualification does not mean anything. Those people went to college for four years. They did the practical side to the work. It was like an apprenticeship in that they learned about the different medicines. A number of them have taken part in upskilling and training to which pharmacists and their assistants are entitled. Continuing education is the best way to describe that.

I have had contact from a number of pharmaceutical assistants across the country who are very concerned that they will be seen now as unemployable because they will be only be able to cover in the pharmacy for up to one hour and, if these regulations go through, they will only be able to dispense repeat prescriptions and not any new prescriptions. That means if a customer comes into the pharmacy with a new prescription when the pharmacist is not present, the pharmaceutical assistant will have to tell that person to come back in an hour when the pharmacist is back or else send the person to another pharmacy down the road. That is not acceptable.

I received a number of emails from people on the issue. The pharmaceutical assistants have taken this very seriously and have made their own submission on it. In terms of some of the things they are looking for, they say the following: it should be compulsory that all pharmaceutical assistants take part in the further education and training which is open to them; pharmaceutical assistants should be included in a core competency framework, similar to that which applies to pharmacists; all pharmaceutical assistants on the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, PSI, register should be required to undergo a practice to review with the Irish Institute of Pharmacy; the PSI rules 2015 should be amended to extend mandatory continuing professional development, CPD, to which I referred already, to pharmaceutical assistants; and the Pharmacy Act 2007 should be amended to make fitness to practise applicable to all pharmaceutical assistants.

The pharmaceutical assistants are taking this matter seriously and have submitted their own options but they are concerned that if the regulations being suggested by the pharmaceutical association were brought into play by the Minister, their jobs would become obsolete. Why did they spend four years going to college and the past 35 years working in pharmacies if they are now to become unemployable? I am interested in hearing the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Senator for the opportunity to speak on this issue because it is important that we acknowledge the work of pharmaceutical assistants and what they have done for many years.

The Pharmacy Act 2007 established the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, PSI. The functions of the society are set out in the Act and are carried out on its behalf by the council of the society. The council is made up of 21 members, comprising lay members and pharmacists, with a non-pharmacist majority of one. Pharmaceutical assistant is a grade of pharmacy professional permitted under the Pharmacy Act 2007 to act on behalf of registered pharmacists during the temporary absence of the latter. For many decades, pharmaceutical assistants have played a valuable role in the community pharmacy through the provision of skilled assistance to registered pharmacists. I acknowledge that role.

Section 26 of the Pharmacy Act 2007 requires that a registered pharmacist be present always in a registered pharmacy when a member of the public attends, whether to have medicines dispensed or to receive advice regarding medicines or other health matters. Public assurance that safe and appropriate pharmaceutical care is always available in a registered pharmacy is based on this patient safety requirement. Section 30 of the Act provides for an exception to the general provision in the Act, which requires the sale and supply of medicines at a pharmacy to be conducted under the personal supervision of a registered pharmacist and specifies that no offence is committed where a registered pharmaceutical assistant acts on behalf of a registered pharmacist during the temporary absence of the latter. Section 30 permits the council to make rules as to what may be done by a registered pharmaceutical assistant when acting on behalf of a registered pharmacist and what constitutes the temporary absence of a registered pharmacist.

Following a period of public consultation, the council of the PSI considered the proposed draft Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (Temporary Absence of Pharmacists from Pharmacy) Rules 2018 at its meeting on 20 September 2018. The council approved the draft rules without amendment. Following this, the PSI undertook to redraft the rules on what may or may not be done by a registered pharmaceutical assistant when acting on behalf of the registered pharmacists. On 6 December, the council of the PSI approved a revised draft of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (Temporary Absence of Pharmacists from Pharmacy) Rules 2018 for issuance for public consultation. This public consultation commenced on 13 December 2018 and ran until 11 January 2019, affording any interested party the opportunity to make representations on the matter directly to the PSI. At its meeting on 14 February 2019, the council of the PSI approved the draft rules subject to certain amendments made on foot of the council's consideration of the results of the latest public consultation. On 8 March 2019, the PSI submitted the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (Temporary Absence of Pharmacists from Pharmacy) Rules 2019 to the Minister for Health for his consent in accordance with the requirements of the Pharmacy Act 2007. I will inform the Minister of the issues raised by the Senator.

I thank the Minister of State. I also raised this issue with the Minister, Deputy Harris. When pharmaceutical assistants were surveyed, it was discovered that they will be working for only eight to ten more years because it is 35 years since one could become qualified. The course has not been run since the 1980s. Therefore, the last pharmaceutical assistant will have retired in ten years. The youngest are in their mid-50s. It is not the case that the grade is relatively new. The pharmaceutical assistants have been working for over 35 years. There has never been a case against any of them.

That is a really important point and I would like the Minister of State to bring it back to the Minister, Deputy Harris. It seems to me that their jobs will become obsolete. Some of them have even been given protective notice should this be introduced on the basis of why they would be paid when in the temporary absence of the pharmacist another pharmacist might as well be brought in. These people have carried out the work and they bring so much experience with them. Most of them are almost as qualified as the pharmacist and from their experience they are well able to advise customers.

I thank the Senator for her contribution. I totally accept the points she raised about the life experience of pharmaceutical assistants, the four years they spend in college and the upskilling and education in which they engage. Some of them have 35 years' service without breaching any rules. My experience in the disabilities sector is that pharmaceutical assistants have made a massive contribution to society. I accept the Senator's points in that regard.

Throughout the course of this process, the Department of Health has received correspondence from and on behalf of registered pharmaceutical assistants outlining their concerns regarding the drafting of these rules. Under the Pharmacy Act 2007, the Minister for Health's role in this process is limited to the consideration of any such rules once submitted for his consent. In doing so, the Minister will give careful consideration to the rules submitted by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, PSI, and the concerns raised by or on behalf of registered pharmaceutical assistants.

I will bring the points the Senator raised back to the Minister to help broaden the discussion on this issue.

Sitting suspended at 2.57 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.