Wednesday 22 May 2019

As row over HSE payments escalates, new figures reveal the money at stake

Pharmacists shared €430m payout from drug schemes

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

More than 100 pharmacists earned in excess of €500,000 each from the state drugs schemes last year -- with one Dublin outlet getting more than €1.5m in fees and mark-up payments, new figures reveal.

The Medipharm pharmacy in South Great George's St in Dublin's inner city topped the payment league, getting €1.59m, a rise of €266,000 over the previous year.

The high payouts were not confined to city pharmacies and one of the top earners was Crowley's pharmacy in Dunmanway, Co Cork, which took in €746,875 in mark-up payments and fees.

The figures obtained by the Irish Independent show in the region of €430m was shared among around 1,499 pharmacists last year, made up of €300m in fees and another €130m in mark-up payments which they get for prescribing to private patients under the Drugs Payment Scheme.

It comes as over 700 pharmacists threaten to pull out of dispensing under the state schemes from next month in a row over cuts in state payments, which they warn will cut €106,000 from the bottom line of every pharmacy a year and put 5,000 jobs in jeopardy.

A breakdown of the payments shows that substantial numbers of pharmacists are getting significant payments from the State -- not including private income from the rest of their retail business.

It revealed that 389 received more than €300,000 and 448 got more than €200,000. It also revealed that 175 chemists received less than €100,000 and 93 got under €50,000.

Exaggerated

Patrick Burke, head of the HSE section which runs the state drugs schemes, yesterday accused pharmacists of being disingenous in how they are calculating their figures. Their claim of a 34pc cut in payments is exaggerated, he said.

He said they received fees for dispensing to medical card holders and private patients. They also get a mark-up for transactions with private patients. "This mark-up was worth €130m last year. In addition they get around €100m in discounts from the wholesalers. They are being economical with their figures", he insisted.

There are around three wholesalers who deliver drugs to pharmacists and one of these is controlled by pharmacy chain Uniphar.

In response, a spokesperson for the Irish Pharmacy Union pointed to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report it commissioned in 2007, which said the overhead costs in an average pharmacy were €576,000 -- the bulk of which went on staff.

"The HSE payments to pharmacy contribute towards paying these overhead costs and enable the pharmacy to pay qualified professional staff to provide pharmacy services on the community drugs schemes on behalf of the State," she added.

She pointed to the decision of the Health Minister Mary Harney to impose what pharmacists calculate is a " 34pc cut in payments" overall from the HSE.

"This cut includes the reduction of the reimbursable price of medicines, which virtually eliminates a pharmacists' ability to negotiate trading terms or discounts from their suppliers."

The spokesperson said the injunction sought in the High Court by a pharmacist yesterday only applies to that business and will not affect the planned August withdrawal.

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