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'Real disasters' predicted as pharmacy fees row escalates

THE fees dispute between chemists and the HSE will escalate tomorrow when up to half of the country's pharmacists stop dispensing medicines under the state drug schemes.

Meanwhile, the HSE has denied claims its contingency plans "failed dismally" on Saturday.

There were reports of lengthy delays as a number of alternative dispensing facilities -- many located along the western seaboard -- struggled to cope with demand on Saturday.

"The HSE protested for weeks that its plans were sufficient," said Liz Hoctor, the president of the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU), last night.

"They are not. And if they failed the test on a quiet bank holiday Saturday when prescription levels are always low, then we fear real disasters when demand picks up on Tuesday."

The special dispensary services in Donegal, Kerry and Mayo came under severe criticism from patients at the weekend, while the IPU said there were no back-up facilities in Waterford or Cavan.

"There is no semblance of a reliable service available to patients from the HSE," said Gweedore pharmacist James Cassidy.

Duty

"In Dungloe, we had several patients who went to the contingency site requesting medications only to be told the items were not in stock and to come back on Tuesday. This is a gross abdication of the duty to provide safe care to patients who simply cannot wait days for essential medicines. This is highly dangerous."

A spokeswoman for the HSE acknowledged that demand for medicine would increase significantly tomorrow, but maintained there were only "minor issues" with its contingency plans on Saturday. She said the HSE was not attempting to replicate the service previously provided by the pharmacies.

She also disputed claims that half of the country's pharmacies have withdrawn from the community drugs scheme. A significant number remained closed on Saturday, but the two sides have vastly differing figures on the number who are no longer taking part in the scheme. The HSE says less than 500; the IPU says 800.

"We had a surge of people withdrawing their termination notices towards the end of last week," the HSE spokeswoman said. "In the region of 340 withdrew their termination notices bringing us up to around 1,100 who remain part of the scheme.

"That list is based on the HSE database that makes payments to pharmacists, and they don't dispute it when they're being paid."

The IPU has called the HSE figures "complete fantasy", and pointed to the case of Richard Collis, a Dublin pharmacist widely quoted in the media as not being in the scheme, but included in the latest HSE list as operating normally.

The pharmacists withdrew from the schemes, including medical cards and the drug payment scheme, in protest at cuts in fees and payments of €133m introduced by the Government.

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