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Pharmacists in Ireland should not make recovering drug addicts suffer in their dispute over fees with the Health Service Executive, according to Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern.
More than 140 Dublin chemists pulled out of the HSE’s methadone supply scheme last Monday in a row over a new drug payment structure.
Mr Ahern told the Dáil – the lower house of the Irish parliament – that the dispute had nothing to do with addicts and they should not be suffering as a result of the action.
The Taoiseach said: “There is no justification whatever for bringing recovering drug addicts into a dispute, no matter whether it is called a commercial dispute or an industrial relations dispute.
“The dispute has nothing to do with people who are doing their best to recover from an addiction problem.”
He added: “The action of 140 pharmacists to withdraw services from approximately 3,000 methadone patients is totally wrong and the same applies to threats to withdraw from dispensing drugs to medical card holders.
“The drug addicts have nothing to do with the dispute in which the pharmacists are engaged and it is a very unfair way of fighting their cause.”
The HSE has urged pharmacists to resume services to methadone patients and said it could not negotiate fees with the Irish Pharmaceutical Union as this would breach competition law.
The HSE said the new regime would cut the nation’s drugs bill by £69m next year, but pharmacists believe it will result in their having to dispense medicine to public patients at a loss and put their businesses at risk.
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“Good for the pharmacists. At last they are not going to be pushed around. Why should anyone give free professional services? But that is exactly what pharmacists are expected to do. Is this the first time the Taoiseach has even noticed that there are pharmacists out there supporting patients and delivering top-quality services? If the pharmacist’s participation in this scheme is so important let it be paid for at a professional rate.” – Allan Melzack, Manchester, England.