Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A prescription for liberty


'Its editors, having to meet a publishing deadline, copied the information off the back of a packet of breakfast cereal, hastily embroidering it with a few footnotes in order to avoid prosecution under the incomprehensibly tortuous Galactic Copyright laws.
It is interesting to note that a later and wilier editor sent the book backwards in time through a temporal warp, and then successfully sued the breakfast cereal company for infringement of the same laws.'
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Among the arcane and needlessly petty restrictions governing our everyday lives are The NHS (Pharmaceutical Services) Regulations 2005 & 2012.

These regulations prohibit a doctor in a controlled (ie rural) area dispensing medicine to patients living within 1.6km of a pharmacy as the crow flies.

The reason given for the rule was to protect existing pharmacies from being undermined by a change of practice at local surgeries and - at least in the less well-regulated past - to stop doctors and patients colluding in the supply of inappropriate drugs.

All very laudable, you might say, until someone turned the whole thing on its head and opened a chemist's shop in our main street a mere half-mile from the excellent dispensary that has served the local health centre for years.

Any patient living within 1.6km of this upstart operation is now obliged to take the prescription slip to a commercial pharmacy instead of picking up medicines at the surgery as other patients do.

For sick people, this means an extra journey and more discomfort and waiting time, while those needing repeat prescriptions can regularly enjoy the irony of being handed the slip in a room full of medicines reserved for those lucky enough to live just outside the 1.6km magic circle.

Needless to say, many of us are avoiding using the new pharmacy on principle, but for those with limited mobility it's not so easy. There's also the matter of  'as the crow flies' - crows not being too bothered by such things as intervening rivers and motorways that can turn a nominal 1.6km into a journey of several miles.

What I object to most of all, though, is being deprived of the choice. I need a certain medicine, the dispensary pharmacist has it behind her counter and yet she is not permitted to issue it to me - although she would very much like to do so - because of these petty and, in this case, misapplied regulations.

I am free to have the prescription made up in any pharmacy of my choice as long as it is not the friendly, efficient and convenient dispensary attached to the surgery where it was issued.

I'd call that a distinct infringement of personal freedom; if it's prescriptions today, what will it be tomorrow?

(I'm not the only one to think this; the main reason for this post is an e-petition to be found here.)

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