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Xrayser: The COVID-19 life assurance lacks rational compassion

"The payout was driven by the government’s desire to suggest it is 'in touch with the people'"

The government’s motivation for drawing up the COVID-19 death in service scheme for frontline healthcare workers had no rational compassion, says Xrayser

My father turns 97 this year. He landed on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, spent his working life as an architectural technician, and used to be able to repair anything in the house. He is a thoughtful, creative and most capable man, and he taught me an important mantra that was repeated to me from when I was young: “They’re all idiots!”

The more I experience political interaction and interference in pharmacy, the more I think that my dad is right. A good example is the life assurance scheme under which families of “eligible” frontline health and care workers in England who die as a result of COVID-19 will receive a lump sum of £60,000.

Taken at face value, this seems a statesmanlike decision to recognise the courage and sacrifice made by brave NHS workers on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19.

But the devil is in the detail, as we soon found out when looking at who was initially covered for this death in service benefit. Staff employed by GPs and dentists – yes, even though they have little or no exposure to patients. Pharmacists? Initially the answer was “no”, even though most pharmacies never stopped meeting patients or having face-to-face consultations.

However, a C+D campaign achieved a swift U-turn along with an obfuscatory explanation by health secretary Matt Hancock that we are “employed in a different way”. The ensuing campaign for this to be extended to all pharmacy staff, admirably led by Mike Hewitson, a Dorset-based contractor, also raised the question of how Mr Hancock believes we are differently employed.

On the basis of my latest NHS prescription schedule of payments I can only assume that he believes that mine is a voluntary role I carry out not for pecuniary benefit but simply for the love of being shouted at for not having any sertraline in stock and the thrill of possibly dying from a COVID-19 infection.

The headline-grabbing emotional appeal of this illogical life assurance is a repetition of the irrational extension some years ago of exemption from prescription charges to patients undergoing cancer treatment. I don’t for one moment mean to diminish the physical, emotional or financial burden of a cancer diagnosis, a burden that I can acknowledge as I am married to a survivor of breast cancer.

However, throughout her treatment my wife still had to pay income tax, VAT, and council tax, which made the tamoxifen charges pale into insignificance. Were I to succumb to heart failure, which carries a far greater mortality rate than cancer, I would still have to pay for what would be a far greater number of drugs.

No, there is no rational compassion behind free scripts for cancer patients any more than there is with the COVID-19 death in service bonanza for healthcare workers, both decisions driven by government’s desire to suggest that it is ‘in touch with the mood of the people’ instead of delivering political leadership that will ensure security and prosperity for future generations.

Of course, none of this should really surprise me. Politics is not about doing the right thing but about doing what is politically expedient, and if I forget that then I’m included in Dad’s exclamation that “they’re all idiots”.

A long-running C+D contributor, the identity of Xrayser remains a mystery, but his irreverent views are known by all. Tweet him @Xrayser

7 Comments

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Sadly, this confirms it - we are not, never have been and never will be a part of the NHS unless there is some unpleasant task that no-one else wants or cuts to be made in which case we are suddenly valuable parts of the NHS but must share the burden equally. We hang on the coat-tails of the mighty service waiting for the crumbs to fall off, we are the seagulls following the trawler hoping for a little bit of fish-guts to come our way.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

That made me sound like Eric Cantona - sorry.

Nilesh Shah, Community pharmacist

Where is the fitness to practice for the government? Doesn't exist? How convenient?

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

A 'General Governmental Council' huh? Their FtP department would be busy, I'll grant you that!

A B, Community pharmacist

Pharmacists shouldn't be having face to face consultations with any patient without adequate PPE and even then it should only be in exceptional circumstances. I haven't been within 2 meters of patient for more than a few seconds for 3 months, unless there has been a screen in the way. The only exception has been when a patient needed urgent assistance after a fall. If any pharmacy is still providing face to face advice, then I'm sorry to say they are being very foolish.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Unfortunately, we don't have the option to avoid face to face contact - it's in our contract and therefore if you refuse to see a patient, you are in breach. Consultation rooms are out of bounds because of social distancing but GDPR regulations haven't gone away so now, even though you can't go into a private room, you are still contractually obliged to talk about Mr XYZ and his erectile dysfunction without giving the game away and from 2 metres away and yes, I am speaking from experience here. PPE is, as we all really know, pretty much useless in stopping you catching the disease (customers aren't using it or using it incorrectly - you must have seen them, the ones either only wearing a mask over their mouth or dafter still, the ones that take OFF the mask to talk to you!) so we are reliant on a few mm of perspex for our safety. Yes, you are quite correct in that we are being foolish - we are foolish to accept these working conditions (if our representative and regulatory bodies weren't so weak we would have the same protection as GPs and dentists) and we are foolish to be pharmacists in the first place.

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

What really brings home the truth in this great article is the picture among the linked articles below it of a smirking Keith Ridge

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