The findings from C+D’s in-depth investigation – drawn from data from 113 CCGs released under the Freedom of Information Act – reveal that 38% have, or are planning, schemes to stop community pharmacies from ordering repeats.
The investigation also showed that 42% of CCGs either have, or are considering, schemes to instruct patients to order repeat prescriptions directly from their GP.
Many of the CCGs that are rolling out these schemes are facing significant financial deficits – and C+D’s investigation found that 41 CCGs predict they are currently losing a total of £74.7 million every year as a result of medicines wastage. In an attempt to address these losses, CCGs estimate they could save an average of £1.4m each by implementing their repeat dispensing policies.
The growth of these schemes comes after C+D highlighted in August that three CCGs in the north west of England and East Anglia are implementing schemes to block pharmacies from reordering prescriptions. They estimated the move would generate total savings of around £10m a year.
"Cost more than they save?"
But David Taylor, emeritus professor of pharmaceutical policy at University College London who has researched the economics of medicines waste, told C+D he doubts whether similar savings are achievable across the country. If the CCGs’ schemes prevent patients getting their medicine, they will ultimately “cost more than [they] save”, he stressed.
Behind the scenes of C+D's data-driven investigation
What did C+D ask?
We asked all 209 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England for details of repeat dispensing schemes they have or plan to implement, and how much they plan to save through these.
How did we do it?
We used the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, which CCGs are subject to as public sector organisations, to obtain details of their accounts and medicines management plans.
How many responded?
Some 113 CCGs responded to our FOI request: 47 provided details of their schemes, 41 gave estimates of medicines waste costs, and 19 gave estimates of potential savings.
What did we find?
Nearly four in 10 CCGs in England are stopping community pharmacies from ordering repeat prescriptions, and estimate they could each save an average of £1.4m by doing so.
Commenting on C+D’s findings, Pharmacy Voice board member Hiten Patel predicted the CCGs' schemes will not benefit patients.
“You’re going to have tens of thousands of patients depending on surgeries, and problems might arise with prescriptions being signed. It also means that more contact occurs at the surgery, when what we should have [is] patients contacting the pharmacy,” Mr Patel said.
Nick Hunter, chief officer for Nottinghamshire, Doncaster and Rotherham local pharmaceutical committees, said previous schemes to stop repeat dispensing in his area had been unsuccessful.
“My experience has been when CCGs start looking into it, they realise it’s far more complicated and it becomes convenient to blame pharmacies and make them scapegoats,” he told C+D.
“There’s so much pressure on CCGs to be seen to be doing something because of the financial situation. [But] if the government really thought this was a problem, they would have done it before now at a national level. It’s a knee jerk reaction that’s creating more work rather than solving the problem.”
Read the full C+D investigation and see a map of the areas where the schemes are being rolled out here.