STAFF at pharmacies across Belfast have taken part in a day of action to save the essential services that they provide to local communities.

Pharmacists protested at poor funding for their service by turning their lights off, while staff wore black and windows were blacked out to symbolise how their premises would look if the pharmacy was forced to close.

Pharmacist Peter Rice from McKenzies Pharmacy on the Falls Road – who is also the chair of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland – said the day of action is to draw attention to underfunding and cuts to pharmacy services.

“In Northern Ireland we have met with the Health Committee a number of times and the previous Minister Swann to highlight the severe difficulties that are affecting the sector and the concern we have about closures,” he said.

“There have been over ten closures in the last 18 months in Northern Ireland of different pharmacies and if the funding keeps going the way it is, we are concerned that that will accelerate.

“Our funding has been pretty static with obviously the rise in inflation and the rise in costs. We are actually finding ourselves in the situation where some drugs are being dispensed at a loss which is costing us money and obviously that is not sustainable. 

“We want the NHS and the Department of Health to fund the drugs appropriately to make sure that we are getting fairly paid for the medication and also appropriately paid for the clinical services that we provide.”

Peter Rice from McKenzies Pharmacy is also chair of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland

Peter Rice from McKenzies Pharmacy is also chair of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland

Peter said that if pharmacies continue to close that it will put extra pressure on remaining pharmacies and the health service as a whole. 

Pharmacist Orfhlaith McAreavey from the nearby McAreavey Pharmacy agreed.

“Community pharmacy is always there for you but as a whole we are struggling with funding pressures and we are calling on our government to make funding for community pharmacy a priority,” she said. “Let’s protect our community pharmacies.”

Joining the protest was West Belfast MLA Órlaithí Flynn who said community pharmacies have been coming under extreme pressure over the last number of years.

“As it stands funding for community pharmacy is 15-20 per cent below the level required to provide a sustainable service,” she said. “Pharmacies were quick to step up and provide crucial patient care during Covid and were exceptional in their ability to assist with the roll-out of vaccinations. 

“Community pharmacies are an integral part of our health and social care system and can help to provide community-based care which helps to direct patients away from overcrowded A&E departments. Sinn Féin will continue to make the case for community pharmacy to be properly funded and for a tailored drug tariff for the north."