Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman and UUP Leader, has stressed that maintaining local pharmacies is a major factor in easing the pressures on the NHS and GP surgeries as well as securing the future of many rural communities.
Assemblyman Swann is heavily involved in campaigns to preserves services to rural communities, was speaking as he called for the community to support the constituency’s much-needed network of local pharmacies.
Mr Swann said it was essential that a power-sharing Stormont Executive be restored with all possible haste so that local pharmacies throughout the constituency could be given the support they require, which in turn, could ease the tremendous pressures now being faced by both hospitals and GP surgeries.
In a major policy statement, Mr Swann emphasised: “I wholeheartedly commend the work being carried out at primary care level and the need to use medicine effectively and help people to remain at home and have greater confidence.
“This work stresses directly the vital services provided by local pharmacies, for example, personal dispensing trays.
“We need a Stormont health minister in place to give an assurance that pharmacists already in position will be taken into consideration as regards the services such as transferring to third-party suppliers, community services and suchlike.
“We have a very strong, well-educated, well-trained pharmacy team already in place that can help out in any future developments of the NHS which will ease the burdens on our already under-pressure health service.”
The North Antrim MLA also warned at that any cuts to local pharmacy services have the potential to be disastrous for provision of frontline healthcare across the North Antrim area.
Mr Swann said: “North Antrim has a dispersed population and, therefore, it’s inevitable that many of the local village pharmacies will have a lower catchment per head than those in heavily populated areas.
“However, sometimes those working for Government departments need to look at something other than just numbers on a sheet. Local pharmacies are a crucial factor in the social fabric of rural communities. Direct Rule from Westminster could spell the death knell for the much-needed network of local pharmacies.
“While I am fully aware that the Health Department has not got an infinite budget, made only worse by the self-protecting actions of the two main parties at the start of 2017, I feel that rather than implementing a blanket cut in the resources offered to community pharmacies in Northern Ireland, the Health Department should instead be working with the industry to try to identify any areas which genuine efficiency savings can be made – but this requires a fully functioning Stormont Executive to be in place.
“And this isn’t an issue which any future Health Minister can afford to delay on; we could be facing a massive 30% cut in the funding for pharmacies if Direct Rule is implemented.
“In the past, Executive Ministers have often refers to people needlessly clogging up hospital beds and appointments. Even without ministers in place, many pharmacies are now finding themselves in the frontline of health care along with hospital staff and local GPs.
“Under Direct Rule, we could have a nightmare scenario whereby a Westminster-appointed health minister oversees the widespread reduction in the number of local pharmacies, then the people currently getting low level medical advice there will have no choice but go directly to their local GP’s and hospitals.
“There are more than 500 community pharmacists with a Health Service contract across Northern Ireland and each and every one of these delivers a range of services that if closed will mean the workload will be passed on to the next point of healthcare delivery.
“If pharmacies are forced to close, then the removal of their services will represent a withdrawal of a vital frontline health facility.
“In past Assembly mandates, the Ulster Unionist Party made great strides in researching and developing the use of generic drugs within Northern Ireland, and the case for them has now been won.
“The argument for introducing further generic drugs has never been stronger. Therefore, I argue that the Health Department should be utilising the skills and taking advice which local pharmacists offer to assist it to introduce and deliver these new drugs.
“Local pharmacists in North Antrim are understandably concerned about the impact a huge reduction in their funding will have, and I’ve met with several of them to assure them that the Ulster Unionist Party will argue for their case as strongly as possibly in the Assembly,” said Assemblyman Swann.