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Xrayser: The COVID-19 life assurance lacks rational compassion

The government’s motivation for drawing up the COVID-19 death in service scheme for frontline healthcare workers had no rational compassion, says Xrayser

My father turns 97 this year. He landed on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, spent his working life as an architectural technician, and used to be able to repair anything in the house. He is a thoughtful, creative and most capable man, and he taught me an important mantra that was repeated to me from when I was young: “They’re all idiots!”

The more I experience political interaction and interference in pharmacy, the more I think that my dad is right. A good example is the life assurance scheme under which families of “eligible” frontline health and care workers in England who die as a result of COVID-19 will receive a lump sum of £60,000.

Taken at face value, this seems a statesmanlike decision to recognise the courage and sacrifice made by brave NHS workers on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19.

But the devil is in the detail, as we soon found out when looking at who was initially covered for this death in service benefit. Staff employed by GPs and dentists – yes, even though they have little or no exposure to patients. Pharmacists? Initially the answer was “no”, even though most pharmacies never stopped meeting patients or having face-to-face consultations.

However, a C+D campaign achieved a swift U-turn along with an obfuscatory explanation by health secretary Matt Hancock that we are “employed in a different way”. The ensuing campaign for this to be extended to all pharmacy staff, admirably led by Mike Hewitson, a Dorset-based contractor, also raised the question of how Mr Hancock believes we are differently employed.

On the basis of my latest NHS prescription schedule of payments I can only assume that he believes that mine is a voluntary role I carry out not for pecuniary benefit but simply for the love of being shouted at for not having any sertraline in stock and the thrill of possibly dying from a COVID-19 infection.

The headline-grabbing emotional appeal of this illogical life assurance is a repetition of the irrational extension some years ago of exemption from prescription charges to patients undergoing cancer treatment. I don’t for one moment mean to diminish the physical, emotional or financial burden of a cancer diagnosis, a burden that I can acknowledge as I am married to a survivor of breast cancer.

However, throughout her treatment my wife still had to pay income tax, VAT, and council tax, which made the tamoxifen charges pale into insignificance. Were I to succumb to heart failure, which carries a far greater mortality rate than cancer, I would still have to pay for what would be a far greater number of drugs.

No, there is no rational compassion behind free scripts for cancer patients any more than there is with the COVID-19 death in service bonanza for healthcare workers, both decisions driven by government’s desire to suggest that it is ‘in touch with the mood of the people’ instead of delivering political leadership that will ensure security and prosperity for future generations.

Of course, none of this should really surprise me. Politics is not about doing the right thing but about doing what is politically expedient, and if I forget that then I’m included in Dad’s exclamation that “they’re all idiots”.

A long-running C+D contributor, the identity of Xrayser remains a mystery, but his irreverent views are known by all. Tweet him @Xrayser

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

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