The Malta Chamber of Pharmacists strongly objects to the recent Times reports on POYC (11th – 12 August): and deplores the poorly researched exercise in ‘doom and gloom’ that went by the name of an editorial to the Times (13th August), which served only to further misinform the public on important health care matters.

In the Chamber’s opinion, it is of poor news value to inform the public that an individual alleges that it was he who advised the minister for social policy to ‘stop’ the POYC project and do a ‘stock take’! This is tantamount to nurturing the symptoms of a ‘prima donna’ syndrome and is surely not the remit of a reputable newspaper.

The Malta Chamber of Pharmacists was signatory to a joint press release on the matter issued on 11th August. The PR was issued so that the Times’ readers, which include pharmacists and patients, are not confused on such important matters as the POYC and the possible introduction of a reimbursement model for Malta: but your reporter, (August 12th) ignored the release, overlooking the fact that without private community pharmacists and the Malta Chamber of Pharmacists, the national professional organisation representing them, there would be no pharmacy system, let alone the POYC project.

In stating this we do not wish to undermine the political and policy decisions taken up to the highest levels of the country’s executive, the sterling work of colleagues at the POYC department and others, wherever they may be directly or indirectly involved and of course, our social partners.

Also these may be divisive tactics and we know better than to succumb to them! In this context, the Malta Chamber of Pharmacists fully backs the Government spokesman who stated that peoples’ opinion (on the subject) would not be commented upon (Times, 12 August).

Pharmacists are busy and committed professionals who do not wish or have the time to be drawn into petty squabbles! Nor do we dillydally, but get down to the daily fundamentals of working for Patients and Pharmacy with a capital P.

Even though this has been explained many times to Times reporters, we repeat for the sake of accuracy that that it was during the July 2008 sitting of the POYC Standing Advisory Committee that the three partners agreed to stop further rollout. This was to implement the Agreement which states that the POYC project should be evaluated, reengineered as needed to proceed with the roll-out. Regrettably, the Government chose to evaluate unilaterally, whilst the social partners in the agreement submitted their preliminary report immediately and continued to implement their ongoing monitoring and reporting, as is expected in such an evolving process.

More recently, meetings and continuous contact with the technocrats directly involved in the day to day management of the POYC have made satisfactory headway in various aspects of the POYC implementation. Of course the single most outstanding setback is the medicines out of stock situation which causes the domino effect in private pharmacies. This causes undue stress on patients and pharmacists alike but in the majority of situations, pharmacists’ professionalism (I refer to all colleagues whether in public or private practice) and their ability to turn challenges into opportunities, cause issues to be nipped in the bud. Of course, the Government’s reluctance to spearhead an educational campaign, directed at the public and the health care professionals involved in the project, as strongly advocated by the social partners, prior to the launching of the project in 2007, had its side effects!

Government must understand that it is now dealing with the private sector, with independent professionals who are rendering a service from their professional offices (community pharmacies). These are also considered as small and micro enterprises which thrive on professionalism, efficiency and timeliness.

It is therefore, high time to ‘think out of the box’ in a credible effort to resolve the, at times, untenable situation arising from important and essential medicines going out of stock. And complete the decentralisation exercise without causing patients the hardship of having to go to Mater Dei hospital for certain essential chronic medicines which should be dispensed by their community pharmacist.

Better IT supported patient care as a result of computerised patient medication records: the recently piloted just in time system (JIT) of stock distribution – these should contribute in no small way to find effective and lasting solutions to present issues.

Moreover, the Agreement provides specifically for discussions to be held with all stakeholders, including the representatives of pharmaceuticals importers, on the introduction of a reimbursement model for Malta. We are impatiently waiting for Government to initiate such discussions. It is to be recalled that Government together with ALL stakeholders discussed this in the landmark conference held in 2000 on the sustainability of the health care system, where this Chamber was one of the prime movers. Since then, the Chamber has indeed consistently placed this item on the agenda for discussion and is proud that reimbursement was an important focus wanted by Government in the third phase of the POYC Agreement. (The Agreement was signed by the then Permanent Secretaries of the Ministries of Health and Finance respectively).

We reiterate that NHS medicines reimbursement systems are realities in the majority of civilised countries globally: and yes, both systems mentioned here do work in parallel.

But those who choose to be detractors of the POYC and the tripartite agreement seem to have tasted Aesopian grapes – surely a non-starter to grab the horns of the bull that is our national health system and the management of our draconian national medicines bill.

It remains for all those of goodwill, sound knowledge and insight to work with the prime movers in rendering a vision into a reality for the good of our health system and our patients. That is our focus and our agenda.

Mary Ann Sant Fournier BPharm, MPhil