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Harney has a closed mind and cold heart on pharmacies dispute – Ó Caoláin

28 February, 2008


Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has accused Health Minister Mary Harney of having a "closed mind and a cold heart" on the issue of the pharmacies dispute. Speaking in the Dáil today Deputy Ó Caoláin accused the Minister for shirking her responsibility and her accountability on this very serious issue.

Speaking in the Dáil today Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "Since the resumption of the 30th Dáil after we have been demanding that the Minister for Health and Children address the escalating and critical situation threatening community pharmacies. Yet it is only now, as the 1st March deadline looms, that these statements and questions have been scheduled.

"The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health & Children has dealt with this matter in detail, meeting over three days recently and hearing detailed submissions followed by question and answer sessions with both the Health Service Executive and the Irish Pharmaceutical Union. The Committee requested the Minister to attend in advance of those hearings. She did not. The Committee requested the Minister to attend in advance of the 1st March deadline. Again she did not comply. I see this as shirking her responsibility and her accountability to the Oireachtas for a most serious situation.

"If the imposition of new scales of payment for pharmacies goes ahead on 1st March and the IPU withdraws from the Medical Card and Drugs Payment Schemes, tens of thousands of patients will be adversely affected. The HSE tells us that it believes relatively few pharmacists will withdraw. That remains to be seen.

"There was absolutely no need for the Minister and the HSE to escalate the dispute in this way. The Irish Pharmaceutical Union welcomed the announcement by the Minister that an independent body would be established to review the contract issues between the HSE and the pharmacists. In welcoming the announcement the IPU had asked the Minister and the HSE to avoid making unilateral changes to existing payment arrangements pending the outcome of an agreed independent review. The Minister and the HSE carried on regardless.

"On the eve of the meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on 14th February the Cathaoirleach circulated a motion which was set to receive all-party support at the meeting the next day.

"The basis of a solution was in that motion. But at the meeting on February 14th the Cathaoirleach withdrew this motion and the Fianna Fáil members proposed a bland motion simply calling on the HSE and the IPU to resolve the dispute. To pass this they divided the Committee and thus the Government spurned another opportunity to help resolve the dispute.

"This Minister has a closed mind and a cold heart in relation to this issue. I again urge her to intervene directly to facilitate a negotiated settlement before tens of thousands of patients, many of them elderly and vulnerable, are subject to further worry and distress." ENDS

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