Hickey's Pharmacy has unveiled significant expansion plans, with the group looking to double in size over the next five years. The expansion starts with two new stores opening in Cork, bringing the total to 36, but Hickey's hopes to have a total of 60 outlets by 2022.

Founder and managing director of the pharmacy group Paddy Hickey said the company has been investing "very heavily" in its people and is hoping to hire an additional 125 staff by the end of next year as part of this expansion. Despite a tightening labour market as the company undertakes the recruitment drive, Mr Hickey said "it's always a challenge to have the right compliment of the right skillset in the business, but we've a strong culture of promoting from within".

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Citing the company's industry leading investment in training and development, its e-learning platform and its coaching programme, Mr Hickey said the new positions will be a balance of promoting from within and hiring from outside. "People know the company they are going to be working for and know we are going to be here for the long-term," he added. Mr Hickey said there will be a "mix" of full-time and part-time roles available.

Earlier this week, the head of the Health Products Regulatory Authority warned the pharmacy sector could be one of the worst hit by Brexit, saying medicine shortages are a very real concern because many medicines here share labels with the UK marketplace. Paddy Hickey said he can envisage such a scenario coming to pass and said it was "a concern". 

"Medicine shortages is already an issue and is an issue in a lot of smaller European countries like Ireland where pharmaceutical companies have to decide if it's economic for them" to operate in, he said. "About 60% of products on the Irish market share either labelling or patient information leaflets - which are key regulatory requirements - with the UK. When the UK becomes what's called a third country, then it's unclear what the licensing requirements will be." He added that such a situation could "be upon us very quickly".

Hickey's staff work "alongside GPs" and many of its pharmacies are based in rural towns and villages. With a potential number of GP practice closures in rural areas in the coming years, the company sees the role of the pharmacist evolving to somewhat to plug that gap. "The role of the pharmacist has developed far too slowly in recent years and compared to other countries, we lag behind the level of services that are avail through pharmacies," Paddy Hickey said.

"Like any maturing industry, pharmacy needs to innovate and we invest quite a bit in that ourselves. Before the end of the summer we will have an industry leading app. We are very much to the forefront on the provision of the flu vaccination and we are providing an injection service, as well as pricing some specialist services for particular patient cohorts," he said.

Paddy Hickey said the pharmaceutical sector can help to ease pressure on the health service in the future, and the high level of accessibility of pharmacies is a big plus, and many services can be provided on a "walk-in basis".

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