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Invest in NI pharmacy network, negotiator urges

The negotiating body for Northern Ireland’s pharmacies has called on the Department of Health to rethink its approach to the “severe bottlenecks” seen in primary care.

Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland was commenting on a recent meeting of the Health Committee in which DUP MLA Pam Cameron said it had taken her roughly 125 attempts to get through to her local GP.

The negotiator called for a “new approach” to making healthcare services more accessible to the public, asking public representatives to work with and invest in Northern Ireland’s pharmacies.

CPNI commented: “Community pharmacies already see around 123,000 people (nine per cent of the population) everyday throughout Northern Ireland and with investment would have capacity to take on further responsibilities, reduce the severe bottlenecks seen in general practice and maximise the use of over 530 community pharmacies located across Northern Ireland.”

'Investing in GPs not enough'

Contractor and CPNI board chair James McCaughan said: “The answer is not to just invest more in general practice; it has to run much deeper than that. The Department needs to conduct a review of the whole system and how it is currently operating. It needs to take account of where investment should be concentrated, and how we can support GPs to continue to provide timely care to sick patients. 

“What is abundantly clear throughout the pandemic is that the current system just is not working for patients. Community pharmacy has built strong working relationships with our colleagues in general practice, we now need to see the Department working to ensure that we can get the best possible outcomes at this time with the health service stretched to its absolute limit. 

“I was astounded to hear one MLA recall having to make well over 100 calls to their local GP before getting through, while another member told the committee about a constituent being directed to the emergency department for a throat issue which, along with so many minor ailments, can be treated through community pharmacy.”

CPNI chief executive Gerard Greene (pictured) commented: “While there are pressures in general practice, we in community pharmacy have been experiencing similar and additional issues and consequently dealing with a significantly increased workload. However, as we start to come out of Covid we have reached a point where something simply must be done to address the issues and improve patient access to healthcare.

“If we are seriously committed to the transformation of the health service, we need to start to think strategically about investment and resources to make our services work properly as soon as possible and displace the bottlenecking at GP surgeries.”

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