Pharmacy cuts ‘a bitter pill to swallow’

MOYLE Council have expressed their concern about the potential closure of chemist shops in the area.

The fear of shutters being pulled down emerged at a meeting between community pharmacists and councillors in Ballycastle.

And now the Council agreed to contact Stormont to register their concern.

Pharmacists from Ballycastle, Armoy, Bushmills and Cushendall attended the meeting.

The delegation was made up of James McCaughan, Michael McMullan, Damian McSorley, Catherine Kane and Eamonn Gillan.

James McCaughan said the cuts of over 30 per cent to save £38 million across Northern Ireland were too severe.

He said pharmacists were aware there is a recession and they were not against trying to make savings but he said the level of cutbacks imposed was “a bitter pill to swallow”.

Mr McCaughan said the cuts are so severe it could see Saturday closures and in the worst case the overall closure of pharmacies.

He said chemist shops are a vital service in a rural area like Moyle and said there could be a big impact on the community.

Council Chairperson, Cllr Padraig McShane (Independent), said: “You are the first point of contact for most minor health ailments and there is never any complaint about your service. What sort of impact would it have if we were to lose a community pharmacy in a small village in Moyle?”

Eamonn Gillan said it is vital that something is done and said a 30 per cent cut is unsustainable for chemists.

He added that if staff are lost he didn’t know if they would have to cut opening hours but said it will be the public which will suffer.

He said they could have stomached cuts but not to the extent of 30 per cent.

Damian McSorley said if the facility shut in Armoy it would have a “huge effect” on the village.

He added: “It is almost a lifeline. People can go and get their medicine on the day rather than have to travel. It would have a huge effect.”

Cllr Donal Cunningham (SDLP) said: “With Moyle being rural it hits us harder. A local pharmacist knows patients and their family history and they are not just a National Insurance number.”

Cllr Sharon McKillop (TUV) said she did not think the Stormont Health Minister had thought the cutbacks through and said there could be an impact on up to 100 pharmacies.

“I think this Council should support the pharmacies and write to the Minister to oppose the cutbacks,” she said.

Cllr Joan Baird (Ulster Unionist) said many retired people live in the Moyle area and she feared for the impact on them.

James McCaughan said there are many elderly people in the population in Moyle but he said there are also plenty of young mothers with limited travel methods if they have to go elsewhere to get to a pharmacy.

Cllr Baird added: “You have our support on this. It is vital to maintain this. There are rumours that you may have to pay to go into Accident & Emergency to have advice.”

Cllr Willie Graham (Ulster Unionist) said they know all about the closure of services in Bushmills and said the bank and library were lost.

Pharmacist Catherine Kane said the closure of a local chemist would have a big impact on the elderly.

She said there are many elderly people in the Bushmills area, especially in the Portballintrae area.

Very often, she said, elderly people would visit the pharmacy basically for a chat and she said that bond with local people would be lost if there was a closure.

Cllr Colum Thompson (Independent) said a pharmacy in a local area is as important as a doctor’s surgery and a school and a closure would be a “disaster” especially in Cushendall as people would then have to perhaps spend a number of hours going to Ballycastle or Ballymena with the cost associated of travelling.

He said prospect of perhaps having to pay for prescriptions would add to the seriousness of the situation.

Cllr Noreen McAllister (Sinn Fein) said pharmacies are at the “heart of our community” and said without a chemist in Cushendall they would “be lost”, especially if they had to travel out of the Glens on bad winter roads.

Independent councillor Seamus Blaney said any closure would be a “disaster”.

Cllr Randal McDonnell (Independent) said they had lost the filling station in Cushendall but he said they really could not do without a pharmacy.

“It would be a serious problem if we were to lose that,” he added.

Cllr Sharon McKillop said it is a case of the rural population facing being hit again.

Cllr Cara McShane (Sinn Fein) said frontline services “being attacked” and she said the Minister should target “cosy” middle and higher management in the health service instead.

Cllr Margaret Ann McKillop (Sinn Fein) spoke of the benefits of local pharmacies and Cllr Baird said in England the Health Service had been “ringfenced” to protect it from cuts.

Council Chairperson Padraig McShane told the delegation: “You have a unanimous voice here in Moyle and we will do all we can to lobby for you.”