Jul ’11 Article in IP

Here comes summer!

So here comes summer. Well at least what passes for an Irish summer. And in the Jordan family household summer means only one thing. Summer holidays. And in the interests of family harmony and even in these straitened times that means I have to go looking for a locum and organise time off. And thinking about a locum brought a song to mind.

Where have all the locums gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the locums gone,
Long time ago.
(With apologies to Pete Seeger).

Now I have been fairly fortunate in the past few years with locums but I know from talking with other pharmacists that locums are getting a bit fewer and fewer, someday nobody will be locumming at all. (Sorry couldn’t resist) This is at a time when there is the largest number of pharmacists on the register. So what is going on? It can all be put down to the Revenue Commissioners. They have decreed that all locum work is to be considered as employee/employer arrangement. So for a locum who may work in a different pharmacy every week, or several pharmacies per week this makes for one very messy income tax situation. I can understand the Tax Man wanting it this way. It makes for bigger amounts (at least before refunds are due) and easier collections. Legal advice is that in most of these cases the locum is a contractor rather than an employee. But the only way to prove this is effectively to take the Revenue Commissioners to court. That’s not to say that it won’t happen but for now locums are finding themselves in a messy mess.

All this goes against the prevailing view that government should be making life easier for small indigenous business. This is bad enough when pharmacists are trying to organise planned time off but what about when emergencies arise. And I haven’t even started on all the bureaucracy and bumf that the PSI throws at us. One way around this would be for locums to start a locum agency business with themselves as the sole employee. The agency could issue invoices for services to pharmacists and pharmacies and then pay themselves. But again this creates a new lorry load of paperwork. And while I’m on the subject of making it easier for small business I would like to raise the issue of bankrupt pharmacists. Under some old regulations a pharmacist who has been declared bankrupt cannot practice as a pharmacist. It is bad enough for a pharmacist that he/she has lost their business and possibly their home but to deny them the right to practice their profession and thereby support themselves and their family at this time is little short of horrific. There has be silence from the Regulator on this matter. The Department of Health and government has enough to be going on with. If the Regulator is silent on the matter why should government bother? The PSI has been quick to pronounce on other regulations so how about a bit of common sense on this one.

On a slightly related matter you like me may have noticed all the “Aren’t Pharmacists Doing Wonderful” stories in the national newspapers. Apart from stating some basic facts these stories tend to be short on any sort of meaningful analysis. Many of them go further with incorrect analysis and conclusions. I do not need to list the reduced hours, reduced wages and services being cut back to other pharmacists. This is not headline material but it has happened and more of it will happen. Perversely now is probably a good time if you are in the market to buy or set up a pharmacy. Just like the residential property market prices are at rock bottom. Premises can be leased for realistic rents by landlords eager to get any paying tenant. If you have the cash or the credit then the Irish pharmacy market is your oyster. And some of the chains seem to agree with this interpretation. I have the feeling that this suits the HSE who would prefer it if all pharmacies were part of chains or groups rather than independents. Like myself you may have noticed that during the last dispute it was mostly the independents who resigned their contracts and mostly the chains who exploited the situation. These stories have been raised at meetings where two or more pharmacists might meet. The best explanation I have heard is that some (not all) journalists don’t know what they are writing about when it comes to pharmacy.

For me the question should be what has prompted them to write these articles. To the best of my knowledge most journalists don’t wake up in the morning and think to themselves “I think I’ll write a piece on how wonderful things are for pharmacists.” Somewhere in the background somebody has to put the idea into their mind. But who? By the nature of their work(?) journalists meet many strange and weird people, movers and shakers, PR men & women, politicians as well as some normal folk. The question I asked myself is who has anything to gain by these stories. After as much as one seconds consideration I came to the conclusion that it is Dept. of Health/H.S.E. who are the mostly likely culprits. When asked if the current round of cutbacks are the last for pharmacy neither will give a direct answer. My read is that they are conditioning the public for another spate of cuts to the pharmacy sector. So in the words of the country man on his wedding night, “Brace yourself Bridget!” Because I reckon that we are going to be right royally screwed.

Have a good summer folks.

There may be those younger readers who may not have got the two musical references. For that I do not apologise, I’m happy to let my age show. If you are really interested just email me and I’ll send you the details.

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