Lengthening the intervals between repeat prescriptions could lead to significant losses for pharmacists, an academic has said.

Dr Rupert Payne from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care said that lengthening typical 28-day prescriptions to two to four months ‘could have undesirable consequences for pharmacies’.

‘Community pharmacies receive a fee for every prescription they dispense’, he said.

‘Large income reduction’ 

He added: ‘So simply switching every repeat prescription item from, for example, one month to three months, could result in a large reduction in pharmacy income.

‘Therefore, although the NHS may save money, it could lead to a loss of pharmacy services. Changes to policy around the length of repeat prescriptions should also consider how pharmacies are reimbursed.’

His remarks come after a study – led by research organisation RAND Europe in Cambridge and published in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) on 12 March – found that issuing longer duration prescriptions could produce ‘considerable savings for the NHS’.

Lack of evidence

Many Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) believe that a 28-day repeat prescribing interval makes the best possible balance between patient convenience ­– as it allows them to get enough medicines for one month – and good medical practice and reduces medicine waste.

But the researchers argued that there is a lack of evidence on whether shorter prescriptions benefit patients with long-term conditions as well as the system.

Co-author of the study and health economist at the University of Cambridge's primary care unit Dr Ed Wilson said: ‘Our results show that in many cases, longer prescription lengths could indeed both reduce administration costs and improve health outcomes.

‘This is because longer prescription lengths do seem to be associated with patients taking their medicines more regularly.

‘However, the evidence base is not perfect so any national change in policy for repeat prescriptions should be phased and needs evaluating fully to make sure we do see the benefits we expect.’