Defence Forces: army pharmacy lay idle due to recruitment freeze

A VACANCY for a chemist in the Defence Forces was costing the state up to €18,000 a month because a fully-stocked barracks pharmacy was left idle.

Thousands of euro worth of medication was rapidly approaching its expiry date, and management of the barracks at Cork was forced to asked private pharmacists to fill each prescription.

The situation came about after the state-wide recruitment freeze halted the attempt to hire a replacement pharmacist. The Department of Defence said a replacement had now been selected.

"It was a ridiculous situation," said an army source. We were left with this vacancy when there was a fully-stocked pharmacy and pharmaceutical assistant present. Military doctors were prescribing the medication but the prescriptions could not be filled. Local pharmacies had to be used, with full mark-up on drugs at a cost of at least €18,000 a month. It was always far cheaper to hire a trained pharmacist directly but the recruitment embargo meant it was not possible."

The Department of Defence said it had been in discussions with the Department of Finance to end the anomaly.

"Sanction has been received to permit the Department of Defence to recruit a civilian pharmacist to fill the position of pharmacist, Collins Barracks, Cork on a temporary basis," the department said.

"A suitably qualified candidate has been selected for the position and it is anticipated that the person will commence employment at Collins Barracks in the near future."

The recruitment freeze has been causing major difficulties for the Defence Forces, as a promotion ban has left more than 50 positions temporarily vacant.

Six weeks after the government finally approved these promotions, many of the posts remained vacant even though personnel had been selected to fill them.

Among the posts left unfilled were two flag officer positions in the Naval Service, which are two of the most senior jobs in the service.

Fine Gael said the vacancies represented a "serious void" within the Defence Forces and that lives could be put at risk particularly in critical overseas missions.

The combined strength of the army, navy and air corps fell below 10,000 in November for the first time in 40 years.