The Irish Pharmacy Union has called for support from the Government as its members have reported a sharp rise in costs due to Covid-19.

In a survey conducted by the union, pharmacies said that measures undertaken to protect staff and customers, and comply with physical distancing guidelines, had seen costs increase by an average of €5,000 per month.

This equated to €10m in additional costs across the industry each month.

"A pharmacy is a healthcare location so we're subject to the same guidance as other healthcare locations like GPs surgeries and medical facilities," said Daragh O’Loughlin, secretary general of the Irish Pharmacy Union. "We have had to put protection in to protect our staff and patients and customers from infection with Covid.

"Anyone who has been to a pharmacy lately will see that there is plexiglass screens, staff in many instances wearing masks and using hand sanitiser, there’s restricted movement within the pharmacy... indeed in some cases where the premises is quite small customers are actually being served at the door."

All of this has added to the cost to businesses - as has the increase in security needs and the addition of other services like home deliveries to vulnerable patients.

At the same time sales had fallen by an average of 36%, as many pharmacies had been forced to forego revenue from some of the more profitable products they tend to sell.

"Obviously the drop in sales has been a lot sharper in some locations - pharmacies located on high streets and in shopping centres, that would usually have high footfall, have seen even more substantial drops," said Mr O’Loughlin.

"A large part of a pharmacy’s business and the funding that sustains the service comes from the retail activity in the front-of-shop," he said. "But that has all, for health and safety reasons, been curtailed, so pharmacy businesses are just focused on necessary medicines and on healthcare treatments, they have foregone all of those retail sales in order to keep their staff safe and their customers safe."

Some pharmacies had been accused of profiteering by increasing the price of products like hand sanitiser and latex gloves, however Mr O’Loughlin said his group’s members were dealing with an incredibly competitive market.

He said the prices being charged was reflective of that rather than an indication of members trying to make up for lost sales through higher profit margins on certain products.

The knock-on impact of the lower sales and higher costs was a reduction in staffing, with one in five members saying they had laid off staff already.

A further 38% said they planned to do so in the next three months.

This would lead to a reduction in service, according to Mr O’Loughlin, as well as shorter operating hours in some locations.

"With a reduced staff you end up with a reduced level of service, so we end up with shorter opening hours and a reduced service," he said. 'They’ve had to restructure loans, they’re taking out new overdraft facilities, they’re having to take out new loans and deferring payments to creditors.

"So pharmacies are doing everything possible to keep the wolf from the door, but the financial situation in the business is getting significant worse every week."

Some pharmacies also reported having reached their credit limit with medicine wholesalers, which reduced their ability to order medicines for customers.

Mr O’Loughlin said the industry was in need of Government support, and if this does not materialise it will see further curtailment of hours and the closure of some premises.