Shortage of pharmacists could lead to reduced opening hours

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been keenly felt in the sector, the IPU said, with young pharmacist retention becoming harder than ever.
Shortage of pharmacists could lead to reduced opening hours

Digital Desk Staff

A growing shortage of pharmacists could see community-based chemists forced into “shorter opening hours, closures on weekends and bank holidays” unless action is taken to tackle the burgeoning problem.

According to the body representing the sector, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU), 240 places in pharmacy third-level courses at the moment is insufficient, and will likely lead to patient care being compromised in the future.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been keenly felt in the sector, the IPU said, with young pharmacist retention becoming harder than ever.

As the Irish Examiner reports, IPU secretary-general Darragh O’Loughlin said pharmacies are not like most businesses.

“If there is no pharmacist available or present, a pharmacy is legally not allowed to open its doors. The sector is now beginning to feel a real pinch due to this shortage.”

There are approximately 3,800 community pharmacists working in over 1,900 pharmacies across the country, he said.

“They play an increasingly vital role at the frontline of healthcare in Irish communities and are Ireland’s most trusted and most accessible healthcare professionals.

"However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for community pharmacies to attract and retain young pharmacists into the sector. If this is allowed to develop it could impact on patient care in the future.”

Third-level courses

There are several causes for this shortage, but the most fundamental is that Ireland does not train enough pharmacists, Mr O’Loughlin claimed.

There are currently only 240 places in pharmacy third-level courses, which is insufficient to meet employment needs. Community pharmacies also face increasing competition for graduates from other sectors such as clinical roles within the HSE and research positions in pharmaceutical companies.

“If this situation is not addressed by the government and industry together there could be challenges down the line for patients.

"This could include shorter opening hours, closures on weekends and bank holidays, or pharmacies withdrawing ancillary medicine support services such as dose administration aids. Nobody wants to see this happen which is why action is needed today.”

The IPU said education for pharmacists in Ireland “has been outsourced for far too long”, especially to the UK.

It takes five years to train a pharmacist, so this won’t be an overnight solution but it is a long-term imperative.

"We have sought a meeting with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, to discuss how the broader pharmaceutical sector might support an expansion in the number of student places available to study pharmacy in Ireland,” Mr O’Loughlin said.

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