Delegates at a C+D webinar were “shocked” that less than one in six pharmacists would dispense to a patient who claimed to be unable to pay but who the pharmacy’s IT system branded ineligible for free prescriptions.
Under government plans due to come into force by 2018, pharmacists will be required to electronically check prescription exemptions “at the click of a button”. Only 16 per cent of 153 respondents to an online C+D poll, which ran from March 20 to 23, said they would still dispense medicine for free to a patient who claimed they were exempt if the pharmacy's IT system told them otherwise.
Fifty-two per cent of respondents said they could not be sure how they would act until they knew the repercussions, while 32 per cent said they would not dispense the medicine.
Sid Dajani, a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, said he was “shocked, stunned and staggered” by the poll results. He urged pharmacists to use their “professional discretion” in this situation, and called for superintendents and pharmacy organisations to provide the sector with guidance on the issue.
Pharmacists were “not tax collectors” and those who said they would not dispense the medication for free were “in the wrong profession”, Mr Dajani stressed at the C+D webinar on prescription charges, sponsored by Actavis, on Monday (March 23). “[Patients] must always have their medication, otherwise what’s the point of pharmacy?” he argued.
NPA board member and contractor Nick Kaye said that, as an independent pharmacist, he had “slightly more freedom and flexibility” to dispense free medication to patients without an exemption than his colleagues working for large multiples.
But it was “worrying” if some pharmacists would not dispense a free prescription for fear of “repercussions from their employer”, he added.
Fellow webinar delegateTania Francis, partner at health and social care law firm Hempsons, said the government’s plans would leave pharmacists “stuck between a rock and a hard place”, as there could be legal implications both if they disobeyed the system and if a patient came to harm as a result of not receiving their medication.
“Even assuming the practicalities can be ironed out, it seems unlikely [the government has] thought it through,” she added.
The government said in December that it estimated its plans for pharmacists to electronically check for prescription fraud would save the NHS £150 million a year. Last month, a C+D investigation revealed that the Department of Health had failed to carry out an impact assessment or consult with pharmacy bodies before announcing the plans.
Would you dispense free scripts to an ineligible patient?
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