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IPU welcomes establishment of pharmacy taskforce

By Reporter - 24th Jul 2023

The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has welcomed the establishment of an expert taskforce to support the expansion of the role of pharmacists.

According to the Department of Health, the taskforce will examine how pharmacists can be enabled to operate at the top of their licence for the benefit of patients and the wider health service.

It will initially consider options to enable pharmacists to extend prescriptions for a range of medicines and medical conditions “where appropriate”.

The taskforce will also advise on a comprehensive approach to facilitate pharmacist prescribing. This will include, but not be limited to, empowering pharmacists to assess and prescribe for common minor ailments within a community pharmacy setting and to use their expertise to operate as independent prescribers.

The IPU has been campaigning for several years for an expansion in the role of community pharmacies. However, it has also warned that significant underfunding of the sector will need to be addressed to support this expansion.

Mr Derek Reilly, interim Secretary General of the IPU, said: “Community pharmacies are ready, willing and able to do more for their patients. We warmly welcome the establishment of this taskforce, which will undoubtedly identify many opportunities to improve healthcare in our communities.

“The Irish public already deeply value the role of their pharmacist, and the pharmacy network is the most accessed and accessible aspect of our health system. Expanding the profession’s role will allow our 1,900 community pharmacies to function at the very heart of the healthcare system.”

However, Mr Reilly warned that fees paid to pharmacists, which are lower now than they were in 2009, will need to be addressed as a priority. “For each medicine dispensed on behalf of the State the fees received today are 24 per cent lower than 14 years ago, while costs continue to rise. While this review of services is welcome, it cannot be done in isolation without reviewing the funding of pharmacies.”

Commenting on the announcement of the taskforce, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: “Pharmacists are highly trained, valued healthcare professionals who already use their extensive training and expertise in medicines to help people every day. They were tremendous partners during the recent Covid pandemic and made a hugely positive contribution to our vaccination programme.

“Empowering pharmacists to use their expertise to assess and treat certain ailments will help patients get the care they need sooner and closer to home – but the benefits go much further. It can help reduce demand on hospitals, walk-in clinics and GP practices.”

The taskforce, which will be chaired by Dr Pat O’Mahony, includes representatives from the HSE, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, the ICGP, as well as academic/training bodies. It has been asked to provide its first recommendations to the Minister as early as October 2023.

The full membership of the taskforce is outlined below:

Taskforce Chair: Dr Pat O’Mahony, formerly CEO of the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and a former Deputy Secretary General at the Department of Health. Dr O’Mahony was also Chair of the management board of the European Medicines Agency. He is currently Chair of HIQA and of the Irish Medicines Verification Organisation (IMVO).

Taskforce Members:

Prof Michael Barry is a Consultant Clinical Pharmacologist and Head of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at Trinity College Dublin. He is the Clinical Director of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics.

Mr Pat Healy is the National Director of Clinical Programme Implementation and Professional Development in the HSE.

Mr Keith Hourihane is a community pharmacist and an adjunct Clinical Lecturer in the School of Pharmacy, University College Cork.

Ms Joanne Kissane is a pharmacist and the Registrar and Chief Officer of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland.  

Ms Kate Mulvenna is a pharmacist and formerly the Chief Pharmacist for the Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) in the HSE.

Prof Caitriona O’Driscoll is Professor and Chair of Pharmaceutics in the School of Pharmacy, University College Cork.

Ms Louisa Power is a pharmacist and a medication safety specialist with the National Quality and Patient Safety Directorate of the HSE.

Dr Diarmuid Quinlan is a GP and Medical Director of the ICGP.

Prof Judith Strawbridge is Deputy Head (Education) of the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences at the RCSI.

Ms Anne-Marie Seymour is the Principal Officer in the Medicines, Controlled Drugs and Pharmacy Legislation Unit of the Department of Health.

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