Prescription charges should be temporarily removed to reduce ‘unnecessary contact’ between patients and pharmacy staff during the Covid-19 pandemic, bodies have said.

In a joint letter sent to Matt Hancock on Friday (24 April), PSNC, the British Medical Association (BMA) and Dispensing Doctors’ Association (DDA) said that ‘urgent’ new measures will need to be put in place to reduce risks faced by staff dispensing prescriptions and patients accessing prescriptions during the pandemic.

The three bodies called for a temporary end to prescription charges to ‘save lives’ of patients, frontline staff and their families by creating a ‘smoother and safer prescription procedure for all.’

They said: ‘This interaction puts both the dispenser and patient at increased risk through unnecessary contact. By virtue of their role, dispensers will come into significant face to face contact with a number of people throughout their working day and are just as at risk as other key workers, including their colleagues working in hospitals across the UK.’

While all three bodies recognised and noted their support of the Government’s intention to extend the period of validity for exemption certificates, they stressed that this advancement alone would not protect patients and frontline staff from contracting the virus if patients continue to be charged for prescriptions.

To remove increased handling of prescriptions, the bodies have also requested that signatures for prescriptions are no longer a requirement.

It is ‘not appropriate’ to seek signatures for patients during this heightened time of risk, they said. Instead, recording personal details from patients verbally would be sufficient, and would allow patients and staff to reduce the level of contact with one another. 

They requested that the government also consider permanently removing the requirement for patients to sign their prescriptions, as they believe it to be an ‘unnecessary process’ which slows down the dispensing of medicines.

Commenting on the joint letter, BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey highlighted the importance of protecting pharmacy staff to the same level as other NHS staff.

‘Just as NHS staff working on the frontline expect to be adequately protected during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is only right too that dispensers should be afforded the same protection as the patient-facing nature of their role places them at considerable risk.

‘Simply put, this is about protecting and saving lives. I suggest to the Government that it is in everyone’s best interests to adopt this approach as a matter of urgency,’ Dr Vautrey said.

Earlier this month, The Pharmacist reported that pharmacists in Wales were raising safety concerns over having to handle paper prescriptions daily – fearing that direct contact with prescriptions may increase their risk of contracting the Covid-19 virus.

One pharmacy team had even started to microwave their scripts in the hope it would kill any infection present on the paper.