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COVID-19: Government has 'no plans' to drop script charge in England

Despite calls from the pharmacy sector to lift the NHS prescription charge in England during COVID-19, the government has “no plans” to do so, it said on Tuesday (June 2).

The NHS prescription fee – which was recently raised to £9.15 per item – is a “valuable source of income” for the NHS, Conservative peer Lord Bethell, who was appointed under secretary of state at the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) in March, said on Tuesday.

Lord Bethell was asked by Lord Rennard, a Liberal Democrat peer, what assessment has been made of the “the case for suspending charging for prescriptions in England to assist pharmacies and patients by removing the need to collect and pay such charges during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

However, the government has now said it will not be temporarily lifting the charge in England. NHS prescriptions are already free of charge in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Last month, C+D called for the script charge to be scrapped during the COVID-19 pandemic to alleviate the administrative burden on pharmacies and reduce the risk of infection for pharmacy teams. This included an open letter to health secretary Matt Hancock.

The campaign was backed by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), and Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who wrote a blog outlining why the charge should be suspended during the outbreak – arguing that it would “provide significant relief to pharmacists”.

In April, the PSNC wrote a joint letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, stating that the prescription charge in England should be dropped for the duration of the pandemic as it places pharmacy teams “at increased risk through unnecessary contact” with patients. The letter, also signed by the British Medical Association and the Dispensing Doctors’ Association, recommended “a temporary removal of the prescription charge” during the pandemic, something the three organisations said would create a “smoother and safer prescription procedure”.

Last month (May 22), the PSNC called attention to the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission for pharmacy teams in England as a result of having to switch paper prescriptions when the back of the form has not been filled in correctly. The negotiating body urged the DH and NHS Business Services Authority to “review their processes around the switching of paper prescriptions” to reduce the risk of infection for pharmacy teams.

Government response “very disappointing”

Professor Claire Anderson, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s England board, told C+D yesterday (June 3) that the government’s response to the proposal to suspend the prescription charge is “very disappointing”.

“We support a pause in prescription charges for patients in England during the COVID-19 pandemic because this would free up pharmacist’s time, reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and support patients’ access to medicines,” she added.

Simon Dukes, chief executive of the PSNC, told C+D today (June 4) that he finds the news “disappointing”, given the “increased administrative burden and safety issues that collecting prescription charges poses for pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Do you think the prescription charge should be suspended during COVID-19?

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