“QUITE a number” of pharmacies across the Fermanagh and Omagh area will be faced with closure if the Department of Health proceeds with the imminent removal of the Rural Needs Fund, a local Councillor has warned.

Speaking at the monthly meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Erne West representative, Brendan Gallagher, said that the Rural Needs Fund, with a pot of around £1.2 million, currently helped to fund up to 70 pharmacies across Northern Ireland.

He told the meeting: “Within the next couple of months, that funding is due to be removed.”

The SDLP Councillor said that a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), commissioned by the Department of Health, had found that pharmacies were “currently under-provided for”.

“So, a removal of £1.2 million is obviously contrary to that and poses a risk to pharmacies right across Northern Ireland,” he said.

Mr. Gallagher said that the Rural Needs Fund had been set up a temporary measure until a more permanent solution was put in place, but warned that it would now be removed “with nothing in its place”.

Claiming that it threatened the survival of pharmacies within the local district, the Councillor said: “I know for a fact that should this be removed it will cause the closure of pharmacies.”

In response, Council Chief Executive, Brendan Hegarty, said the issue had been raised at the recent meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee.

“That’ll be actioned after tonight,” Mr. Hegarty added.

Urging the Council to meet the matter “head-on”, Mr. Gallagher alleged there had been “push back” from the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health in relation to the issue.

He claimed that two meetings had been scheduled between the Permanent Secretary and MLAs from the area over the last week, but both had been cancelled.

“It’s imperative that the Council are forceful on this issue as it threatens the survival of quite a number of pharmacies across the district,” Mr. Gallagher added.