South Antrim DUP MLA Pam Cameron highlighted the issue following constituents’ claims they had faced long waits at the MediCare branch at the Beverley Shops after the shutters remained down at neighbouring stores in the Carnmoney Road and Woodford Road areas.
Speaking to the Newtownabbey Times today (Thursday), Mrs Cameron said: “Quite a number of local residents have contacted my office in relation to the pressures at several local MediCare pharmacies. However, I want to make it very clear that all of those who have been in touch have been highly complimentary of the staff for their hard work and care.
“I know the management of MediCare are taking steps to address the delays for those collecting prescriptions. This is the real on the ground impact of the challenges faced generally by the sector in terms of staff shortages, added financial pressures and the lack of qualified pharmacists available to take on posts.
“I have urged the Health Minister to give further support to our community pharmacies to ensure they have the resources to continue providing the invaluable services they give.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the MediCare Pharmacy Group said: “Throughout the past 18 months of the Covid pandemic, community pharmacy has remained open to the public to ensure the safe and efficient dispensing of medicines to our patients across the communities we serve. Our pharmacists and staff, despite concerns for their own safety and that of their families, have turned up to work each day from the outset of this pandemic and for that we are extremely proud and grateful. community pharmacy has also been at the forefront of the delivery of the COVID19 vaccination rollout across the various cohorts.
“The recent surge of infections due to the Omicron variant has proven an even bigger challenge for us all, leading to increased staff absence due to requirements to self-isolate. This has affected both pharmacy staff and pharmacists and impacted on our ability to keep pharmacies open every day. The pressure on staff resources has been further exacerbated by a pre-existing shortage of community pharmacists and locums across the network.
“As it is a legal requirement to have a responsible pharmacist signed in and on the premises for a pharmacy to open, when faced with staff shortages, we have had to make a decision as to which pharmacies we can open, and which may have to temporarily close.
“When there has been a need to do this, as in the case of MediCare Woodford Road or on occasions MediCare Carnmoney Road, arrangements have been made to minimise the impact by reducing opening hours or by moving pharmaceutical services to another nearby MediCare pharmacy such as MediCare Beverley Road. Obviously, this leads to an increased workload in the pharmacies that are open and an increase in waiting times particularly over the busy Christmas and New Year holiday period.”
The spokesperson added: “Our objective is always to ensure all our patients receive their medication in a timely manner and while understandably this has led to some frustration among those waiting, in general the public have been understanding and are appreciative of the efforts of our staff.
“In what are very challenging conditions, staff have often been coming in early before the pharmacies open and staying late into the evening to ensure medications are dispensed and ready for delivery.
“MediCare provides an extensive free collection and delivery services across all our pharmacies, and we would ask our patients to assist during these times. If they can get through to their GPs. patients should order their prescriptions in good time and ask for them to be sent with the MediCare driver to their local MediCare pharmacy. Also, if they provide us with their mobile number, we will then text them when their prescription is ready for collection thus minimising any waiting time at the pharmacy.
“We are hopeful that the situation will begin to ease over the coming weeks and we will be able to resume full pharmaceutical services across all our MediCare pharmacies. We would once again like to thank all our patients for their understanding and support and of course our staff for continuing to work so hard despite the current difficulties.”