Martin Hao and Quintus Liu, co-founders of Healthera, are concerned the controversial trend of Clinical Commissioning Groups blocking community pharmacies from ordering repeat prescriptions will be harmful in a variety of ways…
The controversial trend to scrap repeat prescription schemes has divided opinion in the sector, and with an increasing number of CCGs joining the bandwagon, it raises the question of whether this approach is going to deliver the benefits it claims.
Many CCGs have implemented schemes to stop pharmacies reordering prescriptions, most notably Luton which was the first to roll out the new repeat prescribing model in a bid to reduce POM line ‘over-ordering’ and save the NHS money. Interestingly there has been much discussion regarding the validity of the Luton report’s findings which claim an estimated savings of £2m over two years. However following on from the ostensible successes of Luton’s new scheme other commissioning groups across the UK have been quick to follow in the CCGs footsteps and a number of others are now moving to adopt similar models.
Whilst it is hard to deny that it will save money by reducing the total number of prescriptions dispensed, the real question is whether or not this scheme is the right, or even a sensible answer to tackling the wider problem of medicine overuse and prescription over-ordering and more importantly whether there is a better option.
Although there are clear benefits, unfortunately it appears that the negative impact on pharmacies has not been properly considered, and the deeper more significant parts of the scheme have been overshadowed by statements of blame.
Of course it is important that all practices and pharmacies are encouraged to streamline their repeat prescribing procedures, that GPs and pharmacists are re-trained to reduce over-prescribing, that the strapline ‘being a hoarder is out of order’ be championed and yet this could most definitely be achieved without an outright ban on pharmacy prescription re-ordering.
Is it the right thing to do?
Probably the most pressing concern being expressed by pharmacy staff is that in the areas this scheme has been implemented, there is a decreased footfall and consequently less business.
Another clear impact on pharmacy is one of script processing efficiency. It is common practice in many pharmacies to plan ahead for the week based on the estimated number of scripts that need to be dispensed. Without that knowledge, it would be harder to effectively rota staff hours and efficiently manage time.
The relationship between repeat ordering and savings may not be straightforward, and rather than making repeat ordering more efficient, banning repeat prescriptions from pharmacies could cause a significant extra workload for GP practices; extra pressure on already stretched medical practices.
There are also real concerns in terms of what this means for patients, and whether it indeed restricts access to medicines. That is not to mention the issues that thousands of elderly patients and carers may have when increasing their visits to GP practices or struggling to order and track repeats online.
Any steps that encourage the industry to reduce expenditure and achieve better value for money are very welcome, and whilst the idea behind the initiative to save the NHS money is much needed, the question remains as to whether it is the most appropriate course of action.
Removing community pharmacies from the repeat prescription process adversely impacts a range of areas; is it really the right thing to do?
This is the time to consider alternative approaches; perhaps non-intrusive ways to encourage and record patients ordering their own prescriptions, through their trusted pharmacies to their designated GPs, thereby keeping pharmacists and their professionalism in the loop, rather than brutally leaving them behind.
Healthera is a digital health management company based in Cambridge.