I am a 71-year-old patient who requires five medications a day, to prevent a recurrence of a stroke, and also to alleviate my severe osteoarthritis.
To help me manage these conditions, I have had monthly deliveries from my excellent community pharmacy in Wallasey, Merseyside, for six years. The pharmacist there has not gone as far as one local GP practice – which requires patients to collect a paper prescription in person every month — but he is now obliged to get someone to telephone me monthly asking what I require.
Accusations are ‘madness’
He and his staff know well enough what medication I need, and that if there were any change, I would tell them. Yet he has to employ someone more or less full time to telephone his customers and ask them, item by item, to state whether they still require drug x, y or z.
The extra precaution is to head off any accusation from the local clinical commissioning group (CCG) that my community pharmacist is not doing his job properly. This is madness.
I often go away from home, sometimes for three weeks or more. My family is mostly abroad and I have annual commitments in the United States. So this new system causes inconvenience all round. It is also an incentive to cheat: encouraging a patient to have an emergency stock at home in case the medicine police start causing trouble.
Sledgehammer to crack a nut
No one is in favour of wasting money in the NHS. But this is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer system to deal with a nut – irresponsible patients who either hoard medicines to feed their chronic hypochondria or just for fun, or who get understandably confused about things.
I very much doubt if it will result in any significant saving. And in the case of patients who, for a variety of reasons, find they have not taken their medicine for a period, the money would have been spent anyway, even if they were diligent.
On a couple of occasions I have taken a packet of pills back as surplus to requirements. But once a medicine is dispensed, even if it is still sealed, it cannot be taken back into stock. Now that's waste, caused by regulation.
Like all bureaucratic systems, checking up on medicines use is based on a lack of trust. And the cost is placed on the pharmacist and the patient.