PATIENTS are being urged to be careful before revealing confidential medical information to cold callers offering prescription delivery services.
A number of calls to patients from distance selling pharmacies claiming to be operating on behalf of the NHS have been reported to County Durham and Darlington Local Pharmaceutical Committee.
Patients, including the elderly and vulnerable, are being offered a home delivery service for their regular prescriptions under the title of an NHS Initiative Scheme. They are told that it is a collaboration between local GPs and pharmacies before being asked to disclose confidential medical details over the telephone.
Local Pharmaceutical Committee member Colin Vallance, who manages Phillips Chemists, in Trimdon Village, County Durham, said: “I became aware of the cold calling last year when a patient telephoned me to ask for advice on what to do.
“Initially she thought this was a good idea until she received a Royal Mail signed for parcel.
“When she contacted the Surrey-based company and told them she wanted to cancel the service she was told that she had committed to a legally binding agreement with them of which they had proof in her original recorded telephone call.
“It is perfectly acceptable for any pharmacy to contact any patient to ask if they would like a prescription delivery service. What is of concern is that the call handlers say that they are calling from the NHS when they are not.
“The use of the NHS description can be misleading; it is likely that its use has led some patients to think they have to sign up to the service without realising the implications.
“The LPC would like to stress the importance of checking the credentials of all callers before divulging any personal information or signing up to any schemes or promotions.” He said like any cold calls if patients were in any doubt about their validity they should terminate the conversation. Patients who wanted to make arrangements with a pharmacy of their choice could contact the pharmacy directly.
The new NHS Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) is being rolled out across England to help improve the efficiency, safety and convenience of prescribing. It allows the doctor to send an electronic prescription directly to the pharmacy of the patient’s choice without the need to visit the medical practice to collect a paper prescription. But experience has shown that when the service is rolled out there can be an increase in cold calls.
“We firmly believe that it is local pharmacies that serve the best interest of their patients, providing the most timely and accessible service,” said Mr Vallance.
“Remote pharmacies can provide an excellent service using the Royal Mail or other courier. But a delay in the post can cause real problems.”
The Local Pharmaceutical Committee has been keeping the local office of NHS England appraised of the situation.
“The General Pharmaceutical Council Inspector for County Durham and Darlington is also aware of these practices,” added Mr Vallance.
Patient Jean Clifford, 74, of Trimdon, contacted her local pharmacist after a cold call.
“I got a call from a pleasant young woman saying she was from the NHS asking if I had thought about having my medication delivered to me at home by courier,” said Mrs Clifford.
“At first I assumed it was from my local pharmacy offering a new service and with both my husband and I being in our 70s I thought it would be a good idea.
“I started to give my medication details when I suddenly thought that my local pharmacist would already know my repeat prescription.”
She said she contacted her local pharmacist who was aware of the calls and explained about the “distance selling” pharmacies.
“I wasn’t happy being cold called as it was confusing but I am happy continuing
with my own local pharmacist,” she said.