Community pharmacies in Northern Ireland will be forced to stop offering Monitored Dosage Systems (medicine trays) to new patients from the 1st December because of safety fears caused by Department of Health budget cuts.
The preparation of the medicine trays is carried out by pharmacists for thousands of patients every day, to help those on multiple medicines take the right drugs at the right time.
The medicine trays are used by patients on a combination of drugs, for example the frail elderly and those living with complex, chronic conditions.
Pharmacists now fear that taking on new patients would put both new and existing patients at risk.
Community Pharmacist Mark Hunter said: “Medicine trays are a vital service and over 30,000 people in Northern Ireland rely on these trays daily for the safe management of their medicines.
“Making the decision to withdraw this service has been an extremely difficult one for us to make but as health professionals, we must take difficult choices when we believe patient safety is at risk.
“As departmental cuts deepen in our sector, pharmacists are working longer hours and with fewer staff, so we no longer have the time or resource to provide this service to new patients safely.
“It is demoralizing to be forced to withdraw this service but the idea that someone could be put at risk by a pharmacist under pressure is not a risk we are willing to take.
“Existing medicine trays patients are not affected but we cannot guarantee that in the long term”.
Clare-Anne Magee from Carers NI added: “Community pharmacists are highly valued by carers and their families because of the sound advice and support they give on a daily basis.
“It is hard to imagine what this will mean for people coming out of hospital or care homes who need assistance with taking their daily medicines. Many of the people we represent are caring for frail and elderly relatives who cannot manage medicines on their own.
“Carers in the family, or domiciliary care providers rely on these trays to administer the correct medication, so the withdrawal of this service will not only impact on them but could mean a slowdown in hospital discharge rates if patients do not have adequate means to manage their conditions at home.”
The body representing community pharmacists has now taken the unprecedented step of informing lead organisations and healthcare providers in domiciliary care, social services and medical practitioners of the withdrawal of the service.
Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI said: “The Department of Health made a funding announcement in recent weeks which was viewed by community pharmacists as falling far below what is required to continue to safely provide the range of services community pharmacies offer to their patients.
“In the context of that announcement, it is even more alarming that community pharmacists feel prompted to withdraw a service like this, particularly one that helps so many patients with their medicines.
“The responsible management of medicines keeps people out of hospital and saves the health service substantial amounts of money.
“It makes no sense to see cuts to community pharmacy at a time when we are supposed to be actively encouraging care in the community and a shift left from hospital settings.
“I would call on the Department to recognize the importance of community services and immediately release additional funding to protect these services and allow community pharmacy teams to continue to do what they do so well – support the health and well-being of local patients in their community.”