Last month, my colleague Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, and I called upon the government to urgently waive the NHS prescription charge for all medication and patients, for the entirety of the coronavirus crisis.
Our letter to health secretary Matt Hancock followed conversations with community pharmacists. During those conversations, it became clear that pharmacists are finding the administration of the fee time-consuming and distracting, at this crucial time where the medical profession is close to being stretched beyond its means.
NHS England has not yet announced the detail of any additional resources to support pharmacies at this extremely difficult time, when millions require deliveries of medicines because they are self-isolating. Our pharmacists are saying that the time spent administering the levy and taking payments over the phone would be better spent securing and supplying medication. The government must listen.
The charge was £9 per item, but it is increasing to £9.15 today. We want the government to immediately suspend this cost, which at this pivotal moment is acting as a bureaucratic barrier to urgent services. It is the right and compassionate thing to do when many of us are worried about the health of our loved ones, their jobs, and putting food on the table.
I was happy to make the point that a temporary freeze would also provide significant relief to pharmacists. They are already struggling to ensure the supply of essential medicines to patients during this COVID-19 emergency. Wholesale costs of medicines are escalating daily, and supplies of products such as thermometers, and even paracetamol in some cases, are becoming impossible to obtain.
Suspending the levy is the sensible and kind thing to do. Under current plans, the NHS is asking patients who are isolated at home to make a telephone call to a pharmacy to arrange payments. This is proving to be a massive strain on frontline capacity, along with the actual administration of the payment itself.
If we can relieve this drain on time, then pharmacists’ capacity would be better focused on the essential task of ensuring patients can get their medicines, advice and support – rather than administering the charge and blocking their telephone lines.
The government must play its part in helping those on the frontline of this crisis. Waiving prescription charges for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis would provide instant relief to pharmacists and their customers. We should not accept any further delays in providing this support to our communities, and I will continue to make this case to the health secretary and the government.
Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon
C+D is campaigning to waive prescription charges during the COVID-19 outbreak. Tweet us #scrapscriptcharges to have your say