Legal view: What to consider before stopping free deliveries or MDS
With more pharmacies considering reducing their services to survive, legal expert David Reissner sets out the issues to consider
Home delivery is just one example of a service many pharmacies have provided without charge. Monitored dosage systems (MDS) are another. It’s understandable that funding cuts have led pharmacies to review whether to continue to provide free services [as C+D’s exclusive poll this month revealed], but anyone who provides services to the public must comply with the Equality Act by making reasonable adjustments – at the provider’s cost – where the provider’s practice puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared with people who do not have disability.
The duty involves taking reasonable steps to avoid the disadvantage or adopting a reasonable alternative method of providing the service. Where a disabled person would be at a substantial disadvantage unless an auxiliary aid is provided, there is a duty to take reasonable steps to provide one – which is where MDS might come in.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published guidance on this. If a shop is inaccessible to disabled people with mobility impairments, the EHRC suggests that home delivery might be a reasonable adjustment. The example the EHRC gives of auxiliary aids is a shop that keeps an inexpensive portable induction loop on its counter to assist customers who use hearing aids. However, even if you normally charge for a delivery service, if the reason you provide the service to a disabled person is as a reasonable adjustment, you can’t charge them for delivery.
The key is whether any adjustments that would remove disadvantages for disabled people are reasonable. What is reasonable depends on all the circumstances, including the size and resources of the provider, and the cost of making any adjustments. Here are some essentials to consider:
- Are disabled people at a substantial disadvantage in accessing your services?
- Assess their needs and whether you can take reasonable steps to avoid the disadvantage – don’t wait to be asked.
- You can’t charge for adjustments you make.
- A large business is likely to have the resources to provide a delivery service even though the cost at a particular branch might be relatively high.
- Let disabled people know how you can meet their needs; if they aren’t made aware of adjustments you make, the adjustments might not be reasonable.
If it wouldn’t be affordable to make adjustments, fair enough. You only have to do what’s reasonable, but it would be hard to justify a decision not to make adjustments if you haven’t at least looked into it.
David Reissner is chair of the Pharmacy Law and Ethics Association