Public pays in price wrangle between HSE and chemists
The Health Service Executive (HSE) is refusing to compensate patients it says are now being overcharged by pharmacies following the introduction of lower prices last summer.
Patients' groups have strongly criticised both the HSE and the pharmacies for leaving members of the public reliant on medication, particularly elderly people "out in the cold" on the issue.
The Sunday Independent has learned that the HSE has written to every community pharmacy around the country to "ensure that the prices quoted on all HSE Drug Purchase Scheme (DPS) receipts are in line with the new regulations".
Senior sources in the HSE have accused members of the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) of colluding in the use of a dual computer system which has enabled them to overcharge their "clients" since the introduction of the new charges.
The HSE said that despite the lowering of prices, the public has not benefited "one cent" from the reductions.
As a result of the row, the HSE is refusing to compensate patients for the overcharging, saying it is a matter for them and the pharmacy, leaving them to take the matter up with the pharmacies.
Following Health Minister Mary Harney's successful showdown with the pharmacists last summer, a new lower charge (€36.69) for drugs was introduced for those on the Drugs Purchase Scheme.
The HSE is accusing the pharmacists of overcharging their "clients", saying they are still charging the older higher rate (€44.41).
"The HSE is aware of concerns raised by our clients who have been overcharged for medicines dispensed in pharmacies and we have advised pharmacies that we consider this inappropriate.
"We would encourage clients to present their Drugs Payment Scheme (DPS) card when giving in their prescriptions to their local pharmacy to ensure that they can avail of the reduced drug prices," said a HSE spokesman.
"All of our clients should be able to avail of the reduced prices introduced by the Minister for Health & Children in July 2009.
"Where clients get receipts from pharmacies, which do not state the drug price determined under the new regulations, clients should seek to recover any shortfall from the pharmacy."
In response, the IPU said it was hoping to integrate the new pricing levels by last November but has yet to do so.