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Fianna Fáil hypocrisy on HSE IPU Dispute astounding – Ó Caoláin

12 February, 2008

Speaking ahead of this afternoons Health and Children Committee meeting attended by the HSE and Irish Pharmacists Union to discuss the current impasse between the two organisations with regard to community pharmacies contracts Sinn Féin TD and Spokesperson on Health Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described the hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil TDs on this issue as "astounding".

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"In my contribution to the Committee discussion I will note how essential it is to put this dispute between the HSE and Community Pharmacies in its proper context. There is a danger that this is being presented solely as a stand-off between the Health Service Executive and the Irish Pharmaceutical Union. This is a very convenient presentation of the issue for the Minister for Health & Children.

"The Government have known for years that the system of pricing for medicines and the contract with pharmacists would have to be revised. It is Government that accept much of the responsibility for allowing this impasse to be arrived at and this confrontation to develop. The people of this state did not elect Professor Brendan Drumm to run the country's health service. The HSE is not some autonomous body. It carries out Government policy and is answerable to the Minister for Health & Children.

"This dispute has raised the prospect of people with medical cards being denied their medication at their community pharmacy if the pharmacists withdraw from the scheme. For many pharmacists the proposed changes to the pricing structure raise the prospect of a sharp drop in income, particularly for those heavily dependent on the medical card scheme. Community pharmacies are a vital part of the primary care network in this State, a network that is now under pressure from another angle with the worsening shortage of GPs. Again, medical card patients are the worst affected.

"The report published on November 13th commissioned by the Health Service Executive itself recommends that any changes to the wholesaler margin for medicines and the impact of these changes should be evaluated in conjunction with key stakeholders in advance of being implemented. In effect the HSE has ignored its own recommendation. Hiding behind an interpretation of Competition Law is not sufficient excuse for continued government inaction on this matter.

"From the beginning we in Sinn Féin have urged the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney to intervene directly to ensure that there are direct negotiations between the Health Service Executive and the Irish Pharmaceutical Union, unimpeded by the Competition Act. To this end we supported a Bill in the Dáil on December 18th which would have amended that Act and allowed such direct negotiations.

"The Government voted down the Bill.

"Fianna Fáil bleating at today's Oireachtas meeting is another prime example of the government's unique ability to speak out of both sides of its mouth. Their hypocrisy is astounding.

"The Minister and the HSE need to get their act together and take control of the situation with the twin aims of ensuring fairness for all involved in the GMS scheme and working to reduce the cost of medicines for the health services and consumers alike." CRÍOCH

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