All retail pharmacies must have designated consultation areas available by 1 November for patients to discuss confidential or embarrassing medical problems with their pharmacist in private.
Under the legal requirements, the consultation area must allow for privacy so that a patient cannot be overheard or seen by others.
It must be specifically designated a consultation room, be well signposted and cannot, for example, be also used for storage or be an access to other rooms such as a toilet.
While welcoming the development as a recognition of pharmacists' role in frontline medical care, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) said the requirement will place an additional financial burden on pharmacies, particularly after the government cut the fees to pharmacies by 30% last year.
The IPU, which represents 1,800 pharmacists across the country, wants a grant for pharmacists of €6,370 towards the cost of installing the consultation area – the same grant that is given by the HSE to pharmacists to participate in the methadone treatment scheme.
The Pharmacist Society of Ireland (PSI), which regulates pharmacists and will oversee and certify the implementation of the rule, said it has no power to give grants but said the union can pursue its claims elsewhere.
In a submission to the PSI about the new regulation, Unicare, the largest chain of pharmacies in Ireland, put the cost of providing a consultation area at €20,000 when lost retail space is factored in. Unicare said it already has them in most of its pharmacies but added that, because of the recent cuts in pharmacy fees and the recession, many pharmacies could not justify the cost of providing a consultation area which would only be used four or five times a week.
John Boles, who has a pharmacy in Dublin 8, has raised security issues about the new so-called embarrassment rooms. He said many patients who want to see him privately are looking for syringes and needles.
He said he was assaulted by one such patient and required dental treatment. On another occasion Boles said an elderly woman insisted on showing him parts of her body with which he felt "most uncomfortable".
Boles questioned whether the pharmacists would have the right to refuse to see a patient in the consultation area because of such fears.
The PSI said pharmacists could consider the use of a chaperone if necessary.