Ministers have agreed to temporarily remove the requirement for patients in England to sign paper NHS prescription forms or EPS tokens, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced.

The temporary suspension began yesterday (1 November) and will last initially until 31 March 2021. However, the suspension will only be lifted once the Government has deemed it safe for patients to resume signing of forms, DHSC said.

The measure has been put in place by the Government to limit the spread of Covid-19 by ‘minimising the handling of paperwork when collecting medicines’.

Back in March, research suggested that Covid-19 can survive on paper, which sparked concerns over the safety of handling paper prescriptions.

Pharmacy contractors to sign form on behalf of patients

Pharmacy contractors have been asked to mark the relevant exempt or paid category on the FP10 form or EPS token on behalf of eligible patients.

‘This is not required if a Real-Time Exemption Check (RTEC) confirms a patient’s exemption,’ PSNC explained in an update last week.

‘As per the usual dispensing process, patients should continue to be asked to pay any relevant prescription fee and evidence of their entitlement provisions apply in the usual way,’ it added.

Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: ‘During Covid-19, it is vital that patients have quick and easy access to their medicines to ensure that they stay healthy. Suspending the need for patients to sign prescriptions will reduce the risk of transmission in pharmacies and support the delivery of prescriptions for those who are currently shielding.

‘We have also been calling on the Government to suspend prescription charges for the whole of the UK, which will lift any financial burden that patients with long term conditions currently face.’

Gordon Hockey, PSNC director of operations and support, said: ‘PSNC has been actively seeking a temporary exemption from signing prescription forms since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and welcomes the Government’s decision to waive this requirement for a second wave.

‘For many months now pharmacy teams have understandably been concerned about infection control and this, coupled with massively increased workloads, has not been a conducive environment for collecting patient exemption declarations.’

In April, during the first wave of the pandemic, 86% of prescriptions were processed digitally in England according to NHS Digital figures.

However, in Wales, where EPS is less commonly used, pharmacists across the nation raised safety concerns over the need to handle paper prescriptions daily – fearing that direct contact with prescriptions may increase their risk of contracting the Covid-19 virus.