A recent survey suggests a shocking 1 in 10 people visit A&E to get medicine if they run out. Is it an accident? Unless you left your tablets on the bus, probably not. Is it an emergency? If you're taking repeat medication, you know exactly when you're going to run out, so it really shouldn't be. So how can you avoid adding to the strain on overstretched A&E services?
GPs in England alone issue over a billion prescriptions a year. There are about 34,000 of us, which means every GP is signing off almost 30,000 prescriptions a year each. They're dispensed by 11,700 pharmacies - so every pharmacy dispenses about 85,000 prescriptions a year.
Why do repeat prescriptions take so long?
The sheer volume is one reason it takes a while to get repeat prescriptions processed. But there's more to it than that. Every medication has to be checked to ensure it has actually been prescribed for you regularly at that dose. Then the prescription has to be issued and sent to your pharmacy. There, a qualified pharmacist has to dispense the medication, using careful safeguards to ensure no potentially dangerous mistakes are made.
It takes a while to go through all these processes. That's why most practices say you need to order repeat prescriptions at least two working days in advance. And because of ever-rising pressure on GPs, more and more practices are putting a stop to people phoning in for routine repeat prescriptions.
Instead, the NHS is working on making it much easier for patients to access medications online. Services like Patient Access allow you to view your medical records, share them securely with a doctor at the hospital, or book a GP or practice nurse appointment. And if you're using regular medication on repeat prescription, you can order it on the Patient Access app at the touch of a button.
Your prescriptions are sent straight to your 'nominated pharmacy' electronically. Many people have a pharmacy they've gone to for years - but if you decide you want to change your nominated pharmacy, you can do that easily yourself using the Patient Access app. While you may choose to collect your prescription from your pharmacy, they may be able to deliver them to your home if you contact them.
What's more, you can change your pharmacy temporarily, using the same feature on the app. That means that if you go on holiday in the UK and realise you need a repeat, you can simply change your nominated pharmacy and collect the prescription from there instead.
Patient Access also offers proxy access, which allows you to use the app on behalf of a loved one (with their permission if they're adult, obviously). Or maybe you don't have internet access? Does your son or daughter? If you're registered at an Emis practice (that's nearly 60% of practices in England and Scotland), you can give permission for a loved one who's more tech-savvy to order medication or book appointments on your behalf.
How to get an emergency supply
If you find yourself short of medication and need it in a hurry, a UK community pharmacist can often issue an emergency prescription. Obviously, they'll need to carry out some safeguard checks. In most cases, they'll need to see you face to face and find out why you need the medicine urgently. They'll usually need proof they you've been prescribed the medicine before. For instance, you can take along a copy of your repeat prescription, or the finished box or bottle of tablets, which will include your name and the date they were issued. The pharmacist will also need to ask some questions to be satisfied that this is the correct dose of medicine for you.
If they're satisfied, they'll be able to issue you with up to 30 days' worth of most medicines (apart from controlled drugs like morphine-based and other strong painkillers), or a single tube of cream or ointment, or a single inhaler.
This service isn't available on the NHS, so the pharmacist will charge you for it. It's always good to know there's a fall back in case of disaster, but clearly the ideal, therefore, is not to run out in the first place. So put a note in your diary as soon as you collect your medicines, reminding you to order the next batch a week before you run out.
In some countries, pharmacists can dispense a wide range of medicines without prescription - pack your repeat prescription slip when you travel in case.
Remember, when bank holidays loom, order your repeat prescriptions well in advance to make sure they're issued in time.
Thanks to My Weekly where this was originally published