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I spy with my little database

So now I’m supposed to check the validity of patients’ prescription exemptions, says Xrayser - but I never wanted to be a tax inspector

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” That’s what your granny and other elderly relatives always asked you as a child, and my answer to that question was the usual: astronaut, footballer or pilot. Although I did go through a phase when very young of wanting to be a cement mixer driver. What I never, ever, said was “pharmacist” – funny how life turns out.


There must be many occupations that no one aspires to. Accountant, traffic warden, maybe, and there’s another that comes to mind every time I go through the oh-so familiar dialogue of: “Do you pay for your prescriptions?” “Yes – unfortunately.” “That’ll be £16.10.” “I can’t afford to be ill,” etc, etc. That’s when I joke about not taking five years of training just to be a tax collector.


But while it’s bad enough having the role of implicit tax collector it now seems I also have to be a tax inspector, as it was reported last week that the Department of Health wants us to police the prescription exemption. By 2018, a new database will be up and running for pharmacists to check before handing over a free prescription, giving us access to our patients’ financial information years before we can access their medical information – perhaps a reflection of the priorities of the mandarins at Whitehall.


So in the future, when a prescription is presented and the patient ticks a box to say they are exempt, we will leap into action and boot up the benefits database. “Oooh, sorry Mrs McClough, but it seems your tax credits expired a week ago! Also your TV licence needs renewing and there’s an outstanding parking fine from June 2013, so you can’t have your inhalers without paying me £24.15. What do you mean you have no money and you can’t hold down a job without your medication..?”


This is not the sort of screening that we should be involved in. We know the NHS charge is just a tax, so why not find another way to gather that money? How about a premium rate version of NHS 111: “If you don’t mind waiting 35 minutes to get through, dial 111 for minor queries such as ‘Can I drink with my antibiotics?’. For a quick response, when it’s more urgent, dial 0998 111 111 and one of our premium operators will answer your call (calls charged at 36p per minute, minimum call length five minutes).”


Are we really going to refuse the patient needing the urgent prescription but who can’t pay? Perhaps that script will be received at a time that this database mysteriously goes down – a plausible excuse to anyone with experience of the NHS IT systems. Things like this that make me wish I’d been a cement mixer driver after all.

Pharmacy Dispenser/ Technician
Bethnal Green North, London
Salary: Up to £30,000

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