Tuesday, 7 July 2009
Shane Ross (Independent)
I thank Senator Buttimer for sharing time.
There is an extraordinary spinning game going on here between pharmacists and the Government, and this is far too serious for a game or for macho stances to be taken. It is all very well at this stage, in July, to sit back and suggest that somehow the pharmacists will capitulate on their demand by the beginning of August. I do not believe this will happen. We are heading for a serious crisis in the pharmacy industry, not just for the pharmacists who are being badly treated by the Government but also for patients. It is not right, as Senator Buttimer said, for the Minister to stand back and say there will no talks whatsoever.
The instrument the Minister has used, a cut of 34%, is crude. One cannot treat pharmacists with the one-size-fits-all approach as not all will be able to take such a cut. I know of pharmacists who have borrowed enormous sums of money to establish their business. These cuts will put some of them out of business. Is that what the Minister wants?
The results will be that small businesses will go under, creating more unemployment, and medicines will not be accessible to patients, particularly older people. The intransigent attitude of a Minister saying she will not talk with concerned parties is irresponsible because people's health will be at risk. This is not like cutting public service pay where people make a small sacrifice and will still be in jobs. This is going to affect some people very badly. Pharmacists have been conciliatory, coming forward with reasonable offers of cuts. They are perfectly happy to take the pain with the rest of us. However, the pain they are being asked to take with these cuts is crude and disproportionate in one go.
Will the Minister, or at least her civil servants, sit down for talks with the Irish Pharmacy Union? One problem in the dispute is the difference in the calculations of the effects of the cuts on the pharmacy industry. The differences are wide and inexplicable. For example, the pharmacists claim the bottom line will be €106,000 for an average pharmacy while the Minister claims it will be only €82,000. The pharmacists are correct in wanting these to be compared. People who paint pharmacists as being particularly well off should examine the PricewaterhouseCoopers review in 2007 which showed their margins are only 6.6%. Talks need to begin before this becomes the inevitable crisis it will be at the beginning of August unless it is resolved.