Pharmacy chain forced to pay HSE €12m after probe into dispensing fees
The Health Service Executive (HSE) was last night called on to reveal the full details behind a €12m settlement payment it received from the country's biggest pharmacy chain arising out of a scheme for vulnerable elderly people.
Lloyds Pharmacies paid the massive financial settlement to the HSE following an investigation into drug-dispensing fees it received for medical card holders.
Four other pharmacies are now under investigation for operating a similar scheme.
It comes as the cash-strapped HSE grapples with massive hospital waiting lists and growing hospital overcrowding.
The manner in which the scheme was run boosted the pharmacies' income from the HSE from dispensing fees to patients under its 'My Med' scheme. Lloyds confirmed it increased its income from the HSE by nearly €600 a year for a 'My Med' patient.
Under the My Med scheme, pharmacies can dispense drugs in compartmentalised trays which contain a weekly supply, with each set of daily medications in separate sections to make it easier and safer for a patient, such as an elderly person, to take them.
The pharmacy is paid a fee of around €5 by the HSE and another €3.27 for each weekly tray for the rest of the month's supply.
A medical card patient on five medication scripts would generate dispensing fees of €74.05 per month for the pharmacist in this scheme, compared with €25 if the medications were given as part of a normal month's supply - an increase of 66pc.
The HSE claimed Lloyds breached its contract by giving patients four trays in one visit instead of on a phased basis over a month.
Lloyds charged for each individual tray.
An internal newsletter found Lloyds had set targets for its stores and highlighted how staff visited local day care centres to sign up patients.
It gave each of the pharmacists in its branches monthly targets and said: "The more you pack, the more you get paid."
It operated a series of targets and penalties for each store operating the scheme and warned that it is better to hit targets early to make "a real dent on your overall profitability for the year".
The HSE yesterday said that a "satisfactory resolution" had been reached but declined to say what further actions are planned.
A spokesman for Lloyds said: "The matter has been resolved between the parties" and refused to comment further.
However, Fianna Fáil spokesman on health Billy Kelleher said the response of the HSE was inadequate.
He said the full details of the settlement need to be disclosed. There remained major questions which need to be answered in relation to accountability and the practices employed by pharmacies in receipt of taxpayers' money.
It was essential that the matter be reported to the State regulator for pharmacies, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, he added.
"€12m is a staggering sum of money and the HSE must bring the issue to the regulator to instigate an investigation into the whole matter," he said.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland is the watchdog and regulator for pharmacies and pharmacists.
It has the statutory powers to carry out investigations to ensure patients are not being put at risk and that proper standards are maintained.
The HSE's medical card section in the past has claimed it was under-staffed but it is increasingly able to examine dispensing patterns and trends which can alert it to a need for further investigation.
It is able to see if dispensing patterns are similar in different pharmacies.