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Public Consultation Report Published

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There have been extensive discussions in the Oireachtas
on the proposed changes by the Pharmaceutical Society of
Ireland (PSI) to rules governing pharmaceutical assistants providing
support for pharmacists during temporary absences.
During a topical issue debate in the Dáil, Jackie
Cahill TD (Tipperary, Fianna Fáil) argued that the changes
were “unwarranted and unjustified” and stated that
“pharmaceutical assistants comprise a small group of
professional people who have done their jobs in a very
professional manner over many years. It is difficult to
understand why changes in their work conditions and
responsibilities are being proposed.”
Mary Butler TD (Waterford, Fianna Fáil) argued that
the current system “has worked very well for the past
128 years.” She went on to say that “the effect of the
implementation of these changes would be to diminish
the role of pharmaceutical assistants. It could also
jeopardise the provision of pharmacy services around the
country, especially in parts of rural Ireland.”
Speaking in response to these concerns, Jim Daly
TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Mental
Health and Older People, said, “Rules made by the PSI
under the Pharmacy Act 2007 are subject to the consent of
the Minister for Health. The Minister has not yet received
the draft rules from the PSI for his consideration.”
Minister Daly did outline his understanding of the
draft rules which “define the temporary absence of a
registered pharmacist as any period, not exceeding one
hour per day. I understand that the draft rules state that
the council shall approve a professional task list setting
out what may and may not be done by a registered
pharmaceutical assistant while acting on behalf of a
registered pharmacist.” Deputies Cahill and Butler
both called for the PSI to appear before the Joint
Committee on Health and the Committee of Public Accounts
to explain “why it wants to downgrade a professional
service provided by people who have done their jobs
professionally over many years.”
In concluding, Deputy Cahill referred to the submission on
this topic made by the IPU, while Deputy Butler argued
that “common sense needs to prevail here”.
Elsewhere, the Taoiseach was asked questions on
the topic by James Browne TD (Wexford, Fianna Fáil),
who said, “The Programme for Government refers to
the expansion of the role of pharmacists. [The proposed
PSI rules] puts livelihoods at very real risk and jeopardises
the provision of pharmacy services, especially in rural
areas and for sole traders. It is baffling that these proposals
are being made now, and many are very upset at seeing
their professionalism and integrity effectively being
brought into question. Will the Taoiseach allay the fears that
their professionalism will be undermined by these rules?”
Responding, the Taoiseach said, “This is an ongoing issue
that has been running for a few years now. Ultimately,
however, it is a matter for the professional regulatory body
rather than the Government. The professional regulatory
body needs to make sure it puts patient safety first in
coming to any decision on this.”
The topic was also raised in the Seanad by Senator
Maria Byrne (Fine Gael), who informed the House, “There
are about 300 pharmaceutical assistants, of which 95%
are women, and they are employed in pharmacies
throughout the country. Many of these women have more
than 30 years’ experience. “The pharmaceutical
assistants are not members of the Irish Pharmacy Union,
but the union supports them in their plight. The union
has written to the Minister urging him to work in a more
cohesive manner on the following: to recommend to
the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland that it reconsider
its stance and develop a core competency framework for
pharmaceutical assistants similar to the one that applies
to pharmacists; to bring the assistants under the
fitness to work banner; and to make it compulsory for
pharmaceutical assistants to attend the continuing
education courses. Such actions would provide the
necessary assurance to the PSI council and to the public
of the competence, knowledge and skills of pharmaceutical
Elsewhere, over a dozen TDs asked the Minister for
Health, Simon Harris TD, parliamentary questions on
the proposed rules. Questions were put to the Minister
from deputies including Seán Fleming (Laois, Fianna
Fáil); Éamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fáil); Robert
Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fáil); Niall Collins
(Limerick County, Fianna Fáil); David Cullinane (Waterford,
Sinn Féin); Brendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna
Fáil); Clare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent); James
Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fáil); Jan O’Sullivan (Limerick
City, Labour); Tom Neville (Limerick County, Fine Gael);
and Brendan Griffin (Kerry, Fine Gael).
In responding to these questions, Minister Harris
stated, “Correspondence outlining the concerns of
registered pharmaceutical assistants has been received
by my Department. My role in relation to this process is
limited to the consideration of any such Rules once
submitted for my approval. I must consider any Rules
presented to me from a fair and impartial perspective,
without prejudice or prejudgement. This includes
consideration of concerns raised by, or on behalf of,
registered pharmaceutical assistants.
“I await the receipt of the Rules for my consideration
from the PSI and until that time, I am unfortunately not
in a position to comment any further on the matter raised.”
Courtesy IPU Review November 2018

Important! Update on Proposed Draft rules:

Update 25 October 2018: A delay has arisen in the submission of the approved Rules to the Minister for his consent. This has arisen in the context of an element of the drafting framework used in the rules, and it is now required that the tasks that may be undertaken during a pharmacist’s period of temporary absence are incorporated within the Rules, rather than as envisaged under Rule 8 considered by the Council. A risk matrix was drawn up as part of the Working Group report on temporary absence, for the Council’s consideration earlier this summer. This matrix of tasks will inform the basis for a schedule to the Rules, which will address the activities that may be carried out by a pharmaceutical assistant when acting on behalf of a pharmacist, in their temporary absence.

The timeline currently envisaged is based on providing the Council with a redraft of the Rule for consideration at its meeting on 6 December. If this draft is agreed, the updated draft Rules will subsequently issue for public consultation, as is required. After that process, the Minister may anticipate receiving proposed Rules in early 2019. The proposed statutory Rules do not come into force until they are considered and signed into law by the Minister. (Courtesy PSI website, buried under “Closed Consultations”) October 2018


Rules approved by the pharmacy regulator today will result in some pharmacies having to close on Saturdays. Thursday 20 September 2018
Today the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council approved rules that will restrict the work practices of pharmaceutical assistants. If the new rules are signed into law by the Minister for Health, pharmaceutical assistants will no longer be able to provide professional cover for pharmacists’ day off. “It is not possible to get locum cover so if the pharmaceutical assistant can’t cover I may have to remain closed some Saturdays…It’s fairly disastrous for pharmacy in Ireland”, a pharmacist explains in research carried out to assess the impact of the rules on pharmacy services.
The report, Human Rights and Equality Impact Assessment of the Proposed Draft Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (Temporary Absence of Pharmacist from Pharmacy) Rules, published today, points to a reduction in the availability of pharmacy services, with 76 per cent of pharmacist respondents reporting that the implementation of the PSI Rules will make it difficult to maintain the current services.
The impact will be greatest in rural areas, as reported by this pharmacist: “My qualified assistant has worked with us for 26 years and has always been highly professional in her work keeping up with developments. She is extremely capable. We have great difficulty in obtaining pharmacist relief, as the younger pharmacist prefers an urban workplace. If my workload increased I would strongly have to consider putting my pharmacy up for sale or failing that closing which would impact on the local community especially as our local GP has recently retired and his practice is looked after by a GP practice in the nearest town which is over 20Km away”
In addition, 248 pharmaceutical assistants will be deprived of their right to earn a livelihood, having worked in pharmacies dispensing medication for customers for over 35 years. Pharmaceutical assistants like Sarah explain how “I will be out of a job. I am only 60 and state pension only available at 67…I have two children in college…it will be a financial disaster…I need my work and my money “, Marie spoke of how “I still have a mortgage so am worried about keeping my family home as I am a widow with a disabled adult living with me”.

For more information contact Deirdre Lynch, secretary of the Pharmaceutical Assistants Association (PAA) on 087 4103599.
The full report is available on the PAA website www.regpharmassist.ie; the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) website www.ipu.ie, the National Women’s Council of Ireland website www.nwci.ie

PAA Human Rights Impact Assessment of the PSI draft rules Report 2018

“Under Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Act 2014, public bodies are required to screen or assess the potential impact of regulatory changes on human rights and equality of the target groups… The PSI has not quantified the impacts nor shown that the costs and operational changes are reasonable and proportionate to the actual clinical risks they are seeking to mitigate…”

August 2018
“Due to the absence of evidence-based research to justify any change to the status quo and the false premises upon which the PSI bases its proposals, the PAA submits that the Statutory Instrument should be withdrawn.”
Continue reading …

JUly 2018
The PSI have Draft Rules that set out the arrangements under which Pharmaceutical Assistants may act in the Temporary Absence of a registered Pharmacist.
They provide for what constitutes “Temporary Absence of the registered Pharmacist”. They set out rules in relation to the recording of any such periods and for notification to the public attending the pharmacy when a Registered Pharmaceutical Assistant acts in the temporary absence of a Registered Pharmacist. In addition, they provide for the approval and publication by the PSI Council of a professional task list, setting out what may or may not be done by a Registered Pharmaceutical Assistant when acting in the temporary absence of a Pharmacist.

These rules will effectively wipe out the rights of 336 Registered Pharmaceutical Assistants to earn a livelihood and will have consequences for pharmacy services throughout the country, especially in small rural areas. The PAA are calling on our pharmacy colleagues and other healthcare professionals to support them in these challenging times.

PAA Alternative Rules


The qualification of Pharmaceutical Assistants was formulated, validated and examined by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland and entitled those who passed the exam to “to transact the business of a licentiate of the Pharmaceutical Society in his temporary absence but shall not be entitled to conduct or manage a business or to keep open shop on their own account”. (Pharmacy Act, (Ireland) Amendment Act 1890)
This is the context within which pharmaceutical assistants have worked for the past 126 years. The training course for pharmaceutical assistants ceased in 1979, with the last examination in 1984. There are now just 393 qualified pharmaceutical assistants on the PSI register, all of whom are over 50 and 99% women.
Since 1890 ‘Temporary absence’ clause has been open to a wide range of interpretations. Custom and practice of many of our colleagues highlight how it varies from holiday cover of any pharmacist to weekly days off, late night opening, sick leave, maternity cover, unscheduled short absences and the myriad of situations that can occur in life.
The Council of the PSI now wish to use their powers under the 2007 Pharmacy Act to legally define ‘temporary absence’ in concrete terms, which effectively results in the extinction of our profession and an excessive interference with the vested rights of PAs to work and earn a living
Important Points:
• Equality and Non-Discrimination – Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights explicitly prohibits discrimination. This means that everyone is entitled to the equal enjoyment of all of the rights in the ECHR. Given that pharmaceutical assistants (PA’s) are predominantly female and that part-time workers within the profession are predominantly female, any attempt to impose minimum hours of service as part of the qualification of the conditions of exercise of the profession will have a far greater impact on women, violating the equality rights guarantee in the Constitution and under ECHR.• When PA’s completed the relevant academic and apprenticeship requirements and passed the examinations of the PSI could be registered, they had a reasonable expectation of their career path and economic benefits. The PSI should not be allowed ‘change the goal posts’ over 30 years later, particular as they are not offering any opportunity to upgrade.
• Narrowing the factual parameters pertaining to the practice of qualified pharmaceutical assistants by prescriptive measures has the effect of interfering with an established right to practice on the part of the PA which attracts constitutional protection as both a personal and property right (Articles 40.3 and/or 43)
• Many PAs have worked in the same pharmacy for over 20 or 30 years, and no account is taken of the knowledge, experiences and customer relationships built up over those years. The PA knows the customers, they trust the qualifed pharmaceutical assistant who has provided them with a service over the years. This is crucial to patient safety
PSI see it safe pharmacy practice as making the pharmacist bring in a locum with minimum experience and no knowledge of customers and business to cover ‘temporary absence’, rather than leaving the qualified pharmaceutical assistant cover an hour over 12 hours.
• Are Health and Safety concerns being addressed where there is no requirement for CPD or Fitness to Practice?
• The concept of “temporary absence” has an established meaning in terms of pharmacy practice since 1890. It is synonymous with “not permanent”, i.e. not conduct business on own accord etc (as outlined on certificate of qualification). It is related to context and depends on the facts of a particular situation.
• Defining ‘temporary absence’ in concrete terms , exact hours etc lacks logic or knowledge of the real world. It will become an offence if a PA works for one minute outside the hours defined. This does not allow for normal life challenges e.g sickness ,funerals, traffic delays and a whole myriad of problems that occur on a daily basis.

First Qualified Assistant invited to address council in 126 years!
“As Registrar,President and Council members you will go down in history as a group who brought about the demise of a group of elderly mainly women graduates of your own formulated, validated and examined qualification. We are not seeking anymore than
the terms we qualified under on the day we qualified.
I hope I have done some justice to all my fellow colleagues, a fantastic, committed, loyal, dependable ,professional group . What a loss you would all be to the Profession of Pharmacy.”

PAA Presentation March 2017

Please click on above link to view full text of presentation

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Opinions expressed on this website are not necessarily those of the PAA committee.