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The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) and Age Action have called for the medical card prescription levy to be suspended for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis. The IPU said that the measure is proving especially difficult for cocooning patients to administer and that suspending it would remove a barrier to vulnerable patients accessing medicines. 

Commenting, IPU Secretary General Mr Darragh O’Loughlin said: “One of the many challenges being experienced by people who are following official advice to cocoon at home is accessing medicines. This is being experienced most acutely by people over 70 or those with underlying conditions, the very people who are more likely to require regular medicines.

“Local pharmacies are supporting these patients by organising medicine deliveries directly to their homes, often with the assistance of gardaí or other volunteers. It is currently obligatory for patients to pay the prescription levy, but that is proving impossible for them, as volunteers are not in a position to take payments from them, so we end up with vulnerable elderly people turning up in pharmacies looking to make payments.

“Eliminating this charge at this time would be a small but compassionate gesture to those it hits hardest. We hope the Minister for Health listens to this request, which we believe would have a very real benefit to Ireland’s most vulnerable patients”. 

Mr Paddy Connolly, CEO of Age Action, added: “Age Action welcomes and commends the Irish Pharmacy Union’s call for Government to address prescription charges. Easing of the medical card prescription levy would provide a sensible solution and welcome peace of mind to older people who are cocooning and are worried about how to pay for their essential prescriptions. The Covid-19 pandemic presents a very real emergency for many older people living on fixed incomes as they struggle to cope with new costs.” 

In addition to this call, the IPU also issued updated guidelines to all people on accessing medicines in pharmacies during the Covid-19 crisis. These include:

Pharmacies remain open and well stocked with all essential medicines.

Do not stockpile any medicine or purchase medication you do not need. One month’s supply of prescription medicines is the maximum quantity allowed by the HSE under the GMS or other Community Drug Schemes.

People who require medication on a regular basis should ensure their prescriptions are up-to-date. However, existing prescriptions which were issued for six months can now be extended to nine months if deemed clinically appropriate by the pharmacist.

Patients or carers are asked, if possible, to phone the pharmacy two days in advance to ask that their prescription be dispensed for a particular time/date so that the pharmacy can have it ready when they come in.

Check with elderly family members and neighbours to make sure they have their medicines and, if necessary, help them to contact the pharmacy if they need advice or information.

Everyone over 70 years of age should remain cocooned at home as per public health advice, and for essential pharmacy items and food shopping, should call on family, friends or services to help. Over-70s should not be leaving home. 

People who are exhibiting fever, cough or other respiratory symptoms of Covid-19 should not attend at a pharmacy or GP clinic. Instead, they should stay at home and phone their GP or local HSE helpline without delay.