The reason you've been banned from ordering repeat prescriptions from your local Blackpool pharmacy

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Patients in Blackpool have been banned from ordering their repeat prescriptions through their local pharmacy.

NHS bosses on the Fylde coast axed the measure, saying it would "cut down on the estimated £1.6 million of potentially dangerous waste medicines being stocked up in people's homes".

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It means people who have been using a high street or internet chemist will now have to contact their GP practice every time they want a prescription.

The change, which came into effect last month, was made to "improve patient safety and reduce unnecessary costs from waste" and brought Blackpool "into line with the rest of Lancashire and much of the country", local NHS documents said.

But it has proved controversial, with jobs said to be under-threat and concerns being raised about the impact on patients, GP surgeries, and pharmacies.

When the ban was enforced in Fylde and Wyre last year, O'Brien's Pharmacy, which has branches across the Fylde coast, including in Cleveleys, Bispham, and Fleetwood, told an industry news website two workers faced potential redundancy.

"We just can't afford to keep these staff," pharmacist Lisa Cottam told the Chemist and Druggist publication.

She said one GP practice manager was "quite concerned about the additional workload", and said they were "already stretched" and "not getting any additional funding".

Martin Hao and Quintus Liu, the co-founders of Healthera, which delivers prescriptions to patients' homes, said fewer than half of all pharmacies support the move, which was trialled in Luton before being adopted by health bosses across the country.

They said: "While it may be a quick win to help save CCGs money, it gives rise to negative consequences.

"Considering the relatively low penetration and awareness of the practice where repeats are ordered online, most patients now have to battle with visiting their GP's surgeries every single time they need repeat medicines.

"This doesn't bode well for many people, and removes the convenience that pharmacies previously offered. For vulnerable and elderly patients, it causes additional problems, confusion, and even concern over running out of medication."

Blackpool GP Dr Neil Hartley-Smith, who is also a clinical director at Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is responsible for organising and paying for residents' health care - and for the ban - said patients ordering their own prescriptions is "safer and reduces waste".

He said: "Over-ordering, stockpiling and unused medicines present a real risk to patient safety. It also costs the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds every year.

“The only thing that is changing is that people will not be able to order a repeat prescription at their local pharmacy and pharmacists will not be able to order prescriptions on patients’ behalf. People will still be able to collect or receive their medication from wherever they do now.

“We are also keen for more people to take control of their repeat prescriptions by ordering it themselves online when they need it. This will make sure more and more people understand their medication and how they are meant to take it. The prescriptions can be sent electronically directly to the patients preferred pharmacy as required.”

The CCG said practices will "work with any particularly vulnerable patients and their families to ensure they are not negatively affected by the changes", though Ms Cottam from O'Brien's said previously the lack of clarity on the meaning of "vulnerable" was "creating confusion for pharmacy staff and their patients".

Resort patients can now only order their repeat prescriptions through the MyGP app, the online Patient Access service, by email, by filing re-order slips, or by calling their practice, though some don't allow telephone ordering and methods vary by surgery.

St Paul's Medical Centre, in Dickson Road, North Shore, warned its patients its telephone lines "get very busy, so please use one of the other alternatives if you can".

The Abbey-Dale Medical Centre, in Common Edge Road, Marton, meanwhile, said "repeat prescriptions cannot be dealt with over the phone".

It urged patients to use Patient Access, or to call into the surgery and speak to reception, post a re-order slip in a provided prescription box, or email its dedicated address.

Layton Medical Centre, in Kingscote Drive, said it accepts orders through the MyGP app on via a re-order slip, while South King Street Medical Centre said it is taking orders on a dedicated prescription hotline open from 10am until 1pm on weekdays.

The Crescent Surgery, at Cleveleys Health Centre in Kelso Avenue, said it has an automated telephone prescription service and also takes orders in person, by post, or online.

And Waterloo Medical Centre, in Waterloo Road, South Shore, said it is taking orders online and via mobile app, through re-order slips either posted or dropped off, or by telephone from 9am to 2pm.

"Remember to allow enough time when ordering your repeat prescription," it told patients in a recent letter. "You should order when you have seven days of medicines left."

Last week, The Gazette reported how £1.25m from the Department of Health and Social Care will be given to the NHS trust running Blackpool Victoria Hospital and the Clifton Hospital in St Annes so it can move from paper prescriptions to digital.

The news followed the recent announcement that, following testing involving 60 GP practices and hundreds of pharmacies, phase four of the 'Electronic Prescription Service' will be rolled out nationally to create a faster and more secure process for GPs to prescribe and dispense prescriptions.

Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, which is driving a "digital transformation" in the health service, said: "Switching from paper prescriptions to digital in our hospitals will make mistakes less likely, free up staff time, and ultimately improve patients' care and health."

The cost of prescriptions - for those who pay for them - increased by 20p to £9 for each medicine dispenses earlier this year.

And last year, the NHS announced prescriptions for treatment for several minor conditions would be stopped. Patients can no longer get paracetamol and other over-the-counter treatments, such as cough medicine, eye drops, and sun cream, in a move that health bosses hope will save up to £400m a year.

"The increasing demand for prescriptions for medication that can be bought over the counter at relatively low cost, often for self-limiting or minor conditions, underlines the need for all healthcare professionals to work even closer with patients to ensure the best possible value from NHS resources, whilst eliminating wastage and improving patient outcomes," a spokesman said.

Those wishing to complain about the ban on pharmacies issuing repeat prescriptions on the Fylde coast have been asked to call the CCG on (01253) 955480 or email blackpool.medicinesoptimisation@nhs.net

A CCG spokesman told The Gazette said no complaints had been received from patients, no issues were raised by unions, and said the change was made with the support of GPs.

Some practices were already working in this way “of their own accord”, he said, adding that “some pharmacies had already stopped ordering on behalf of patients”.

He added: “The project was actually initiated through the CCG’s discussions with practices, following concerns being raised about the levels of waste and additional cost which can result from unnecessary prescribing, and we supported them through the process of introducing the change.”