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C+D’s open letter: Scrap script charges during COVID-19 pandemic

In a letter to health minister Matt Hancock, C+D editor Beth Kennedy makes the case for England’s prescription charge to be put on hold during the COVID-19 crisis

Dear Mr Hancock,

Firstly, on behalf of Chemist+Druggist (C+D), I would like to wish you a speedy recovery after having contracted COVD-19. I do hope you are on the mend and are managing to keep as well as possible in these uncertain times.

I am writing to you today to make the case that England’s prescription charge must be scrapped for at least the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. England’s prescription charge policy always seems slightly incongruous when every other UK country has decided to make medicines free.

But now more than ever, it seems ridiculous the charge is increasing by 15p to £9.15 today (April 1) while emergency measures to help businesses and the self-employed are having to be drafted in to mitigate the virus’s economic effects.

It is true that the majority of prescriptions in England are free due to policies that means those aged below 16 and over 60 do not have to pay. But this should apply to everyone while the pandemic is raging.

COVID-19 is indiscriminate. It doesn’t care about your age. It doesn’t care where you live. It doesn’t care that it is risking people’s livelihoods, and therefore their ability to pay for essential medicines. As you know all too well, this virus affects everyone.

Patients’ ability, or lack thereof, to pay for their medicines is not the only issue at play here. Pharmacy teams are facing unprecedented levels of work and stress, with reports of a month’s worth of prescriptions being dispensed in a week, queues winding down the street and abuse from patients. How can it be right that they are still expected to carry out unnecessary bureaucracy by verifying who is and isn’t eligible to pay when they are already being stretched to breaking point?

And at a time when money is being made available for pharmacies to install protective screens on their premises, teams are facing what is surely a needless risk of handling cash if patients prefer not to pay via a contactless means. This can and should be avoided, and the solution is simple. Scrap the charge.

You have shown your appreciation for the sector by thanking pharmacists for their frontline efforts to keep daily life going while the pandemic rages. While this was a much-appreciated sign of your gratitude, it is now time to move from words to action.

It is imperative, not just for the hard-working pharmacy teams risking their health every day they go into work, but for the members of the public hardest hit by COVID-19 that the prescription charge is put on hold.

I urge you to do the right thing and pause prescription charges for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. I look forward to hearing from you on this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely,

Beth Kennedy

C+D is campaigning to waive prescription charges during the COVID-19 outbreak. Tweet us #scrapscriptcharges to have your say

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