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Industry bodies: Suspending prescription charge could ‘save lives’

PSNC: Suspending script fees during COVID-19 would protect "those working daily on the frontline to dispense prescriptions"
PSNC: Suspending script fees during COVID-19 would protect "those working daily on the frontline to dispense prescriptions"

The government should scrap the NHS prescription charge in England for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PSNC has said.

In a joint letter last week (April 24), the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Dispensing Doctors’ Association (DDA) told health secretary Matt Hancock that pharmacists dispensing prescriptions are “at increased risk through unnecessary contact” with patients.

The three bodies said they recommend “a temporary removal of the prescription charge” during the pandemic – creating a “smoother and safer prescription procedure”.

Addressing health secretary Matt Hancock, PSNC CEO Simon Dukes, BMA chair Dr Richard Vautrey and DDA chair Dr Richard West, asked the government to consider the suspension of the prescription charge and doing away with prescription signatures.

Doing so could “save lives – protecting vulnerable patients and those working daily on the frontline to dispense prescriptions at a time of heightened risk to their own safety and that of their families”, they argued.

The three bodies said seeking signatures from patients at this time is “not appropriate” as it puts “both the dispenser and patient at increased risk [of COVID-19] through unnecessary contact”.  They suggested that “the recording of personal details should be sufficient” and that this would enable a reduction in contact between pharmacy teams and patients.  

As of April 1, the charge for a single prescription is £9.15, a 15p increase on the previous amount.  The PSNC, BMA and DDA said they “understand the government intends to extend the validity period for exemption certificates ”for maternity, medical and low income exemptions.

The organisations said they support this as it means these patient groups will be able to continue to “use their existing certificate”, helping to “reduce the chances of infection and workload at this critical time”. However, they argued that this is only "a first step in reducing unnecessary contact” and that more needs to be done.

The three representative bodies urged Mr Hancock to implement a number of measures to keep healthcare teams and patients safe during the COVID-19 outbreak, including the “temporary suspension of the need for a signature when collecting controlled drugs from a dispenser”.

Reduce “unnecessary bureaucracy”

The three organisations also asked the government to consider permanently removing the requirement for patients who pay a prescription charge to sign a declaration on the prescription form or EPS token.

“This is an unnecessary process generating both additional work and cost for both patient and dispenser and we recommend removing the process permanently”, they said in the letter.

The call from the PSNC, BMA and DDA to temporarily suspend the prescription charge comes nearly a month after C+D launched a campaign for this to be implemented for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The campaign, which earlier this month (April 1) saw C+D editor Beth Kennedy write a letter to Matt Hancock urging the health secretary to drop the script fee during the pandemic, is supported by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran.

Tweet us using the hashtag #ScrapScriptCharges to have your say on scrapping the prescription charge

Do you support the call for the prescription charge to be suspended during COVID-19?

Charles Beadle, Locum pharmacist

It’s a logical move at this time. England is unique in terms that we only have this levy. The cost effectiveness of administering it must be high in proportion to the revenue collected. Sometimes the less able to pay customers forgo prescriptions (eg preventer inhalers), and I would like to see reforms in this charge 


Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

It might save lives, but not your own.

How High?, Community pharmacist

It's always been an issue.....

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

a. The patient should sign the prescription BEFORE coming to the pharmacy - it really cheeses me off how often I'm thrown the bit of paper then have to throw it back

b. I will not sign the back of anyones prescription because I would then be responsible for any fraud

c. this is supposed to be a NATIONAL health service and our nation state is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Therefore either all should pay or none. The inequality between England and the rest really gets up my nose

Pharmacy Tech, Pharmaceutical Adviser

How do patients sign the back of an EPS script before coming to the pharmacy?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

That isn't an issue because the dirty, virus riddled little creatures don't have to touch the token beforehand. It's the damp, sweaty, creased up filthy green Rx I'm on about. It's always been a wonder to me how fast some people can make their prescription form look like its been eaten by a dog then sicked back up again.

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Probably just as well you're an ex-locum then ;)

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Just riding the covid locum wave at the mo, mate, then I'm outta here.

Still refusing to sign for people though - it's their declaration to make, not mine.

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Why can't the pharmacy staff just sign the back of the prescription themselves, as the representative, and take payment by a contactless card, as we are suggested to do in supermarkets? They have to handle the prescriptions anyway in order to dispense them. Am I missing something here?

V K P, Community pharmacist

Instead of the pharmacy staff just signing the back, how difficult is it for the public to sign their own prescription atleast? it does not require that much of an effort to lift a pen. oooh, then they will ask for the pen to supplied for free as well. thats why the prodcution people want the pharmacy to do everything. the time of being doormats for the paymaster and the public has now gone. how about the govt taking claps instead of signatures???? clapping is the new monetary form now adays. ooh has the NHS supplied the hands for clapping???

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Us signing the back of the Rx means we are taking legal responsibility for the declaration and any consequenses. I'm not prepared to do that.

John Cleese, Production & Technical


Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Not necessarily. Things like that are always open to the interpretation of the law - just look at the business with us using volunteers. As far as I'm concerned, it's the patient's job to sign their own prescription and then after they hand back the contaminated article I hit the hand gel. To quote from the article :

'Yes, in this situation a representative (in this case the pharmacy) may act as an extension of the patient (with their consent). The patient should understand that if any information is incorrect then they will be liable for any penalties, not the pharmacy.

Following changes to the Terms of Service from July 2016, contractors must advise patients that where evidence is required but not provided (or if there is doubt over its appropriateness) that NHS checks are undertaken to verify exemption, and the ‘Evidence not Seen’ box should be ticked by the pharmacy.'

I believe that in order for this to be unchallegeable in law, you would need a signed declaration by the patient giving explicit permission for us to sign on their behalf, which kind of defeats the object, otherwise we leave ourselves wide open to accusations of fraud.

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