PHARMACIES in Fermanagh are at “breaking point” and need urgent help before some of them are forced to close, an pharmacist in Enniskillen has said. 
A survey published last week shows that 87 per cent of pharmacists expressed that they were “very worried” about their own businesses with 81 per cent stating that the current funding situation, including cuts to rural pharmacy grants, is having an impact on their own health and well being.
Joe McAleer who runs Erne Pharmacy and Belcoo Pharmacy has criticised the “sustained attack” he says has been levied on pharmacies due to underfunding, no investment and a rising demand. 
“We can no longer cope, we are at breaking point. We are exhausted and stressed from working long hours.
“Many employees work 12 plus hour days even if we are only open 9am to 6pm.  We don’t have enough staff to have tea or coffee breaks and lunch breaks are non existent,” he told The Impartial Reporter.
Mr. McAleer, who attended an emergency meeting with other pharmacists at Stormont on Monday, has claimed there has been prolonged government underfunding since 2011 and that every pharmacy in Northern Ireland has been “vastly underfunded compared to those in the UK.”
“There has been no investment in community pharmacy so a range of services currently available to patients in the UK though their pharmacy are not available here such as flu vaccines and a wider range of treatments available from their pharmacist rather than the GP so free up GP appointments.”
He says pharmacists like him are dispensing medicines which can be more than £100 above reimbursement price at the time of dispensing “with no assurance we will get this back.”
“In a lot of these cases we are ending up getting paid less than what the medicine cost us, never mind the time spent trying to source these medicines or the time spent arranging alternatives with the GP,” he said. 
He says additional funding cuts coming down the track amount to almost £20 million (20 per cent) of the 2017/18 budget and says he is now dispensing 30 per cent more medicines since 2011 despite having had his fees reduced by almost 30 per cent. 
“The department’s decision to bring pharmacists in GP practices without considering the impact on community pharmacies has left many struggling to get cover or a day off , increasing stress.
“We have absorbed the cuts; not invested in our businesses; cut back on staff and many like myself have worked increasingly long hours, staying late into the night and working weekends to cover workload and ensure patients don’t suffer. 
“Unfortunately we can no longer absorb the latest cuts; we need emergency funding and we need it now. I would implore patients to write to the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health Richard Pengelly and ask him to urgently address the problem before pharmacies close or services are affected.
“I also implore our local councillors, politicians and MLAs to demand Richard Pengelly acts immediately,” he said. 
Prior to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the last Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill, outlined a commitment to continue to develop and resource community pharmacy based initiatives over the next 10 years. However, this is now in jeopardy due to the fact that the Department of Health is under funding the cost of providing community pharmacy services.
“Rural pharmacies are often, due to GP closures, the only point of healthcare in their communities and are often the heart of their communities. We do so much to facilitate and ensure our elderly patients can continue to live in their own homes and all that all patients can get a timely release from hospital. What would these communities do if we have to start cutting hours? Cutting services? Or possibly close days?” said Mr. McAleer who is asking people to visit their local pharmacy across Fermanagh and sign a petition calling for help.