I propose to take Questions Nos. 305, 341, 343, 344, 347, 379, 382, 413 and 450 together.
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.
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 1st January 2020 to maintain a statutory basis for contractor payments and to prescribe the fees payable from that date.
In keeping with my obligations under Section 43 of the 2017 Act, my officials have undertaken a process of consultation with the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU), as the representative body for the profession. My officials have met with an IPU delegation on two occasions where proposed fee restructuring was discussed. A detailed submission was received from the IPU. This consultation process has now concluded.
I met with the IPU on the 5th December, where I reiterated my intention to move beyond the arrangements underpinned by the FEMPI regulations and to commence a comprehensive review of the pharmacy contract. In this context I also communicated my intention to maintain the current fee structure from 1 January 2020.
The comprehensive review of the pharmacy contract in 2020 will address the role to be played by community pharmacy in the context of Sláintecare. It will consider all aspects of pharmacy service provision including delivery of a multi-disciplinary model of service delivery for patients, ensuring clarity of roles and achieving optimum value for money.
However, any publicly funded pharmacy service expansion should address unmet public healthcare needs, improve access to existing public health services or provide better value for money or patient outcomes. Accordingly, any measures to be considered must be evidence based.
New secondary legislation is currently being drafted in order to give effect to the prescribed fee structure, as required under the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017.