Thursday 14 November 2019

Varadkar forced to intervene in row over pharmacy regulation

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Health Minister Leo Varadkar was forced to demand that a group of pharmacists who were involved in an email chain - described as "scary and worrying" - sign up to a code of conduct.

The minister was dragged into the row following an independent report into email exchanges between six elected pharmacists on the powerful Council of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI), which regulates the industry.

One of the emails suggested members of the Council should "drum up" guidelines to stop Healthwave pharmacy in Dundrum in Dublin from using a new courier service to deliver medicines to customers.

The behind-the-scenes drama at the regulatory body is revealed in documents obtained by the Irish Independent.

Shane O'Sullivan, the owner of Healthwave, a cut-price pharmacy, who later found out about the emails, described the chain as "scary and worrying".

The discovery of the emails led staff to refer the issue to the full 21-member council.

It asked senior counsel Felix McEnroy to do an independent examination, which was sent to Mr Varadkar. Mr McEnroy concluded that staff members had acted appropriately in bringing the matter to the attention of the council.

Three of the council members involved in the email chain, including Dublin pharmacists Richard Collis and John Corr, along with Nicola Cantwell of the Institute of Technology in Carlow, then wrote a letter to the minister in January, complaining about how the regulatory body was run.

The correspondence was also signed by Ballymun pharmacist Edward McManus.

In February, Mr Varadkar wrote a strongly-worded letter to all four Council members saying the regulator "plays a vital role protecting the health and safety of the public by regulating the pharmacy profession and pharmacies.

"For the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland to command the confidence of the public and the sector which it regulates, it is necessary that the Council should comply with appropriate standards of conduct."

He said the President of the Council, Leonie Clarke, had informed him that their correspondence "was sent without the authority of Council and that the Council does not support or agree with its contents".

"The President affirms that the registrar and other officials have the full support and confidence of the Council and states that any suggestion they acted inappropriately is completely unjustified and without foundation." He asked them to write to him agreeing to abide by the regulatory body's code of conduct.

John Corr wrote back to the minister saying: "I respectfully suggest you pay less heed to your State officials and more to your conscience and the Garda whistleblower debacle."

In April, the matter was handed over to Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch, who was told there appeared to be an unwillingness among a minority of Council members to acknowledge the seriousness of the issue. Ms Lynch met with the four pharmacists who all signed the code of conduct.

An investigation into the email chain is still under way by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

Irish Independent

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