- €10 million per month increase in operating costs
- Retail sales down 36% while costs soar
- One in five has laid off staff while a further 38% will do so in the next three months
- Government supports urgently needed
6 May 2020: Ireland’s 1,900 community pharmacies are struggling to cope with soaring costs and falling revenues. New research released today by the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) reveals the extent of the severe cost increases being borne by pharmacies providing front line care during the crisis.
The IPU Covid-19 Business Survey revealed that the vast majority of pharmacies have been hit by significant extra costs to enable them to remain open and to provide safe care. The costs associated with physical distancing are among the most significant, with over two thirds (68%) installing new counter screens to protect patients and staff, and significant costs highlighted for the implementation of other measures including signage and security pods. When Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is included the average cost per pharmacy is €2,700 with some pharmacies spending up to €10,000.
Day to day operating costs have also dramatically increased for pharmacies. The survey reveals staff costs, as well as additional security, delivery and sanitisation costs, are increasing by an average of €5,000 per month, equating to almost €10 million per month on average across the sector.
The increase in costs comes at a time when retail sales in pharmacies have dropped dramatically due to the restrictions, with falls on average of 36% across the sector, and three-quarters of pharmacies anticipate having to make additional investments to reconfigure their premises or otherwise prepare for when the current restrictions on movement are lifted.
This is putting considerable pressure on pharmacies, the majority of which are small family run businesses. The survey showed that one in five pharmacies have laid off staff, while another two in five (38%) will be forced to so in the next two to three months.
A quarter of pharmacies have reached their credit limit with medicine wholesalers, impacting their ability to purchase further supplies, while many more have had to defer payments to creditors, restructure loans, or expand overdraft facilities. Worryingly, 30% of respondents indicated that they had difficulty in ordering key medicines for patients due to reaching their credit limit.
Speaking about the stark figures, IPU Secretary General Darragh O’Loughlin said, “Pharmacists are at the frontline of our healthcare system. As the various Covid-19 restrictions have been implemented, pharmacies have remained open to provide their communities with an uninterrupted supply of medicines, service and advice, but this has come at an unsustainable cost to many.
“Pharmacists are fully committed and none of them want to see staff laid off, but the reality is that there is little choice unless the situation changes. These pressures also could cause closures of some pharmacies, a situation that everyone wishes to avoid.”
In conclusion, O’Loughlin said that while pharmacies continue to operate in extremely difficult circumstances they will make every effort to remain open. Minister for Health Simon Harris has said that he is looking at ways to support pharmacies in their work. However, no support has yet been provided, leading O’Loughlin to warn that, if the additional costs continue at the levels currently experienced and urgent Government support is not forthcoming, some pharmacies will have to dramatically curtail their opening hours or close completely.
Note to Editor:
The survey was undertaken in the week beginning 20 April 2020 to establish to establish the impact of Covid-19 on pharmacy businesses and to get an estimate of the costs already incurred and the potential future costs when the public emergency measures are eased. There were 190 responses to the survey representing 430 pharmacies.