Tuesday 12 November 2019

Emails about blocking my business demand inquiry, says cut-price pharmacist

Shane O’Sullivan pictured at the Healthwave Pharmacy in Dundrum
Shane O’Sullivan pictured at the Healthwave Pharmacy in Dundrum
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The owner of a cut-price pharmacy said revelations that senior pharmacists at the highest level are under investigation over a chain of emails, stating they tried to "drum up" guidelines to stop him expanding his business, are "scary and worrying".

Shane O'Sullivan of Healthwave pharmacy in Dundrum, Dublin, was speaking after the Irish Independent disclosed some pharmacists - who were members of the council of the profession's regulatory body, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) - emailed each other last year saying they should try to block his courier service delivering medicines to customers' homes.

One pharmacist on the council said they should "drum up" guidelines to nip it in the bud. Another wrote: "What is to stop us specifying some mythical safe that needs to be in the vans."

The emails were copied to an official in the PSI, who immediately alerted senior staff.

A council meeting was called and three members resigned "for personal reasons and in the body's best interests". The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is now conducting an investigation.

Mr O'Sullivan's business is radically different to traditional pharmacies and offers generic drugs at the cheaper Northern Ireland price.

It has 11,000 members and delivers drugs to every county.

Clearly shaken, he said: "This is incredibly serious. These are pharmacy owners with commercial interests on the council emailing each other. Are they trying to stop innovation?"

The 21-member council is made up of elected and appointed members, including working pharmacists.

The PSI commissioned senior counsel Felix McEnroy to do an administrative review of the emails sent in April last year and this has been sent to Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

Mr McEnroy said his review suggested no breach of competition law took place.

Mr O'Sullivan became aware of the emails last year through his legal team, who obtained documents from the PSI.

This followed a bogus complaint made against Healthwave by a member of the public who alleged they had been offered six months' worth of sleeping tablets without a prescription.

The complaint was withdrawn in recent weeks. Healthwave records calls and had evidence the person had asked for the pills but was refused.

"It has been an expensive and stressful year," said Mr O'Sullivan.

He called for a full and vigorous inquiry by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

"There also needs to be a root and branch look at how pharmacists who have businesses are on the council," he added.

When they sit on a fitness-to-practise committee, where another pharmacist is accused, "they have the fate of that pharmacist in their hands even though they can be commercial competitors," he pointed out.

He added: "We are operating on much tighter margins than other pharmacies."

In response, the PSI said in a statement it accepted the recommendations of the McEnroy report and is acting on them.

There are no complaints outstanding before it in relation to any matter referred to in the report.

Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch, who has responsibility for the PSI, said she would be concerned if any individual action by a council member gave rise to the perception that the independence of the PSI was compromised.

She noted that the McEnroy Report found that PSI staff had acted appropriately in relation to the events in April 2014 and that it considered the body competent, proportionate and effective in discharging its functions.

How home delivery shook up pharmacy market

Healthwave was opened in 2014 in Dundrum in south Dublin, offering cheaper cross-border prices for generic drugs.

It takes a lower margin of profit and keeps overheads low. It also negotiates deals with suppliers.

Customers who avail of the savings pay an upfront fee of €25 a year. It now has 11,000 members.

It expanded its business by offering to deliver medicines to customers' homes across the country.

One of Healthwave's team of pharmacists travels anywhere in the country for an initial consultation to check people's prescriptions in line with legal requirements.

The drugs are then delivered to the customers' home the next day.

Delivery of medicines to individuals, based on their prescription, is also in place in other forms by other pharmacies and it is now a feature of how residents of many nursing homes receive the drugs that they need.

Irish Independent

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