Pharmacy of your choice
Important medicines out of stock – Muscat
Health Minister issues reassurance
Cynthia Busuttil

Important medicines, including drugs for depression, high blood pressure and cholesterol, are among a list of almost 700 which Labour leader Joseph Muscat said were out of stock from the government’s supplies.

Dr Muscat said pharmacies taking part in the Pharmacy of Your Choice Scheme have been sent a list of 692 medicines which the Health Department has run out of.

“The government needs to do something because people are suffering. We cannot have a situation where only those who have the money can get treatment,” Dr Muscat insisted yesterday morning.

According to Labour Social Policy spokesman Michael Farrugia, some of the medicines are very important and include treatment for depression, high blood pressure and cholesterol.

The list, sent last week to pharmacies currently in the POYC, said that these 692 items would not be dispensed since they were out of stock.

Health Parliamentary Secretary Joe Cassar issued a statement saying that the list in question is not the list of items that were out of stock from the main Government Medical Stores, which are the stores that supply pharmacies in the POYC scheme.

The list referred to by Dr Muscat was published and distributed for information purposes to POYC participating pharmacies “as a guidance” and contained items which do not form part of the POYC portfolio, like gluten-free items and hospital items.

He said the bulk orders for POYC pharmacies have just been delivered and all 67 pharmacies should soon be well stocked. “That is the reason why the out-of-stock products at POYC may seem on the high side.”

The POYC scheme, he added, retains enough stocks to cover needs, in order to avoid wastage.

“Supplies are topped up from the Main Medical Stores on a regular basis. Considering that bulk orders have just been delivered, replenishment of supplies will be effected in the coming days,” he said.

Speaking at Vittoriosa’s Caraffa Vaults yesterday morning, Dr Muscat said the government was short of these medicines because of its failure to pay what it owes to medicine importers.

Last month, Social Policy Minister John Dalli pointed a finger at the finance ministry, saying it was “the stopper” when it came to the €30 million owed to importers for medicines bought last year.

Out of stock medicines are putting pharmacists in the line of fire of some irate patients, especially when the missing NHS products are available against payment as part the pharmacy’s private stock, Chamber of Pharmacists president Mary Ann Sant Fournier said. But due to the lack of a reimbursement system, pharmacists are unable to dispense medicine for free – even if a patient is entitled to it through the NHS. Further discussions on the POYC system, including the possibility of the introduction of a reimbursement method, have still not been held.

Ms Sant Fournier, who had for years been insisting on the need for a sound system enabling patients to pick up their free medicines from their chosen pharmacies, stressed the need for all the partners in the scheme – the chamber, the pharmacy owners section of the Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises and the government – to sit round a table and solve the problem. But the standing advisory committee set up to work on the project’s implementation has not met since July.

GRTU pharmacy section representative Mario Debono said a meeting is to be held on February 20.

Pharmacists, Ms Sant Fournier said, had also been given a list of medicines for chronic diseases which can only be picked up from the pharmacy at Mater Dei Hospital. This meant that many patients still have to make it to hospital to pick up their medication despite the scheme which had aimed to put an end to that.

“This undermines the whole concept of the scheme,” Ms Sant Fournier said.

Introduced last year, the POYC was seen as a breath of fresh air by patients who faced long queues at government pharmacies whenever they went to pick up medicines. Originally meant to be rolled out across the island by the end of last year, the deadline was later moved to next month.

But although the government has insisted that the scheme is “here to stay”, the roll-out was stopped last year as the authorities evaluated the scheme, which encountered problems in August due to staff shortages.

Currently 27,694 patients can pick their medicines from their chosen pharmacy.