The suspension of the need for the patient’s signatures on prescription, dental and general ophthalmic services forms in England, which came into force yesterday (November 1), is “part of the social distancing measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus”, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) said in an alert published yesterday.
The requirement was paused to “avoid cross-contamination and help minimise the handling of paperwork when collecting medicines or receiving dental and eye care”. It will apply for the next five months but will be “kept under review and may be extended”, the DH added.
Ask for evidence
Pharmacy contractors have been asked to confirm the patient’s eligibility for free prescriptions on the FP10 forms and EPS tokens, and patients should still be asked to prove if they are entitled to free NHS prescriptions.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said last week (October 30), that the NHS Business Services Authority will not switch “any unsigned paper prescription forms between exempt and chargeable groups” until the end of March 2021.
For this reason, PSNC asked contractors to check that “the reverse of every paper FP10 prescription form is clearly marked as exempt or paid and sorted into their correct exempt or chargeable groups before the bundle is dispatched to the relevant NHS prescription services division”.
Commenting on the PSNC announcement about the new policy on Twitter, some pharmacists wondered whether this change was introduced too late.
Isn’t this about six months too late?— Alex Robbins (@AlexRobbinsKL) October 30, 2020
Others pointed out that they’ve signed forms on behalf of their patients for some time now.
Majority of our prescriptions are electronic now. We have been signing on behalf of patients since the pandemic hit. The sooner Real Time Exemption Checking becomes the norm the better, smaller month end packages then too— Lisa McGowan (@lisaloumcgoo) October 31, 2020
I think most pharmacy teams have already been doing this. It's common sense right?— Qash (@geekyqash) October 30, 2020
PSNC director of operations and support Gordon Hockey said the organisation – which had asked for the suspension to be introduced during the first wave of COVID-19 – welcomes the DH’s decision to “waive this requirement for a second wave” of COVID-19.
“For many months now pharmacy teams have understandably been concerned about infection control and this, coupled with massively increased workloads, has not been a conducive environment for collecting patient exemption declarations,” he added.
Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D today (November 2) that “AIMp welcomes this move, particularly during this busy period where pharmacy teams find themselves once again on the frontline”.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley told C+D today that the RPS had been calling on the government “to pause the need for patients to sign prescriptions [to] reduce the risk of transmission in pharmacies” and to suspend prescription charges in England, “which will lift any financial burden that patients with long term conditions currently face”.
“Suspending patient signatures is a step in the right direction on prescription charges and we are continuing to discuss this with the government during the pandemic,” Ms Gidley added.
In May, PSNC had asked the DH and NHSBSA to “review their processes around the switching of paper prescriptions” to reduce the risk of infection for pharmacy teams in England.