Mary Harney: controversial cuts

PHARMACIES have laid off just one-third of the level of staff the industry said would lose jobs as a result of controversial fee cuts introduced by Minister for Health Mary Harney last year.

The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) said as many as 5,000 jobs would go as a result of "devastating" reductions in medicine dispensing fees which led to around 800 chemists refusing to operate the service last year.

The actual figure to date, according to a report by Price WaterhouseCooper, stands at 1,600, representing about one employee in every pharmacy or about 10% of the industry.

Legislation introduced to facilitate the cuts is to be reviewed by the Department of Health this week with a submission from the IPU.

The Department says that some €70m was saved between July 2009 and last January. It also pointed out that since the introduction of the legislation "the number of pharmacy outlets with contracts with the Health Service Executive has increased".

The amendments brought in included a new sliding scale for dispensing fees as well as a reduction in mark-ups on medication and in reimbursement fees for medication.

The IPU has defended its claims that more than three times that number of people would lose their jobs saying they had placed no time frame on the figure.