Irish consumers want more pharmacy services – but the country is facing a shortage of community pharmacists

A survey launched at the Irish Pharmacy Union National Pharmacy Conference has found that 96% of Irish consumers support pharmacists being allowed to prescribe medicines for minor ailments.

The role of pharmacists is restricted in some ways in Ireland compared to other countries.

And 93% of respondents said they would like to see pharmacies offer services such as blood pressure or cholesterol testing at the pharmacy for a reasonable cost.

Pharmacists were considered accessible and trusted: 86% of respondents said pharmacists provide good value for money, 93% said they were very accessible and 78% said they were easy to talk to about health care problems or issues.

The data also show high levels of trust, with 98% saying they trust the advice and patient care they receive, and 96% saying they value the profession advice offered by pharmacists.

Pharmacists also did well compared to GPs: 90% of respondents said pharmacists were available at a time that suited patients, compared to 42% for GPs; 62% said they sometimes rely on a pharmacist’s advice rather than visiting the GP, and 60% were more likely to talk to a pharmacist first before visiting a GP.

But the data came as IPU executive committee member and Cork pharmacist Caitriona O’Riordan told the conference that a shortage of young pharmacists is a major threat to the sector.

“There is evidence that young qualified pharmacists are either not entering community pharmacy or are leaving the profession, with many deciding to pursue careers in other areas,” she said.

“The reasons for this are varied but we know that one major off-putting factor is excessive and increasing levels of administration and bureaucracy, coupled with a perception that their professional skills are underutilised in comparison to their colleagues in other countries.”

Ms O’Riordan pointed out that compared to the UK, where pharmacists can prescribe for minor ailments, or other countries where they can monitor patients with chronic illnesses, renew and adjust prescriptions, pharmacists in Ireland may feel somewhat restricted.

“Community practice is no longer attractive to young pharmacy graduates, who are frustrated that their knowledge and skills are not properly utilised by a system that fails to recognise them,” she said.

“They seek more rewarding careers in other settings. This problem will, if not addressed, have serious ramifications, not just for community pharmacy, but for the wider community.”

To make the sector more attractive and professionally rewarding, Irish pharmacists need to be permitted to expand their scope of services and ensure that they can practise their profession, Ms O’Riordan said.

“The last thing we want is to see, due to a lack of qualified staff, is our smaller villages and towns losing their local pharmacy, particularly when we see that happening already with other healthcare professionals including GPs and community nurses.”