On 9 May 2023, Twitter split in a half after the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a groundbreaking change in the way citizens access healthcare.
Imagine skipping the tiresome wait that unavoidably comes with trying to get a hold of your doctor and instead being able to directly order your prescription by calling your local pharmacy. In other words, the UK government is considering enabling pharmacists to prescribe certain medications without requiring a GP’s sign-off.
While this proposal has its supporters, concerns have also been raised about potential risks surrounding its implementation, particularly when it comes to women’s experiences with contraceptive pills. Let’s dive into the potential pros and important cons of this upcoming healthcare upheaval.
Say goodbye to early morning phone queues. With this new system, ordering medication will become as simple as placing a quick call to your local pharmacy. No more waiting anxiously to secure an appointment with your busy GP.
Allowing pharmacists to prescribe medication for minor illnesses like earaches and sore throats could reduce the strain on GP services. By redirecting patients with less complex conditions to pharmacists, the NHS can focus more on critical cases and specialised care.
This process could also be a game-changer for individuals with mobility issues or limited access to GP services. Patients who find it difficult to reach their doctors’ offices will be able to conveniently obtain necessary medications through their local pharmacy. There’s also the fact that some people find the doctors to be an incredibly stressful and stress-inducing environment—this change eliminates those potential fears.
Picture this: you wake up, grab your phone, and dial your local pharmacy’s number to get your contraceptive pill delivered straight to your doorstep. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Well, hold on a second, because there are a few things we need to consider first.
While the proposal to allow pharmacists to prescribe contraceptive pills without the need for a doctor’s appointment may seem convenient, many women, including myself, have raised some concerns regarding the safety of taking contraceptive tablets without a doctor’s examination and whether there might be negative health implications as a result of this new idea.
First of all, contraceptive pills are powerful medications that affect hormone levels in the body. Without proper medical guidance and evaluation, women may be at a higher risk of experiencing unforeseen side effects. These side effects can range from mild symptoms such as nausea, headaches, or changes in menstrual patterns to more serious conditions such as blood clots, hypertension and high blood pressure.
It’s also important to note that individuals may react differently to various types of contraceptive pills, and a doctor’s expertise is crucial in finding the most suitable option based on individual health factors.
A doctor’s appointment for contraceptive prescription provides an opportunity for a comprehensive health check-up. During this visit, doctors can assess a woman’s overall health, evaluate any existing medical conditions, and identify potential risks or contraindications for certain contraceptive methods.
By skipping this vital step, underlying health issues that could impact the choice of contraception might go undetected, putting women at an increased risk of complications, like that of blood clots or even strokes.
SCREENSHOT spoke to Sarah, 28, and Maddie, 26, to get their thoughts on the matter.
“My friend was repeatedly diagnosed with cystitis over the phone, given antibiotics that didn’t work, and then suddenly collapsed at work. Terrifying, right?” Sarah shared. “The misdiagnosis led to a delayed diagnosis of bladder cancer. Fortunately, she’s now received timely treatment, including tumour removal and chemotherapy,” she went on to add, clearly stating her disapproval of the new process.
Maddie echoed some of Sarah’s worries: “I was really concerned. I don’t think it’s safe for women. How about the rest of us being able to use the GP, in a reasonable time frame… Is that too much responsibility for the government?”
The opinions shared by both Sarah and Maddie highlight the importance of a doctor’s expertise in accurate diagnosis, monitoring, and follow-up. Misdiagnosis can lead to delayed treatments and, in severe cases, life-threatening consequences. Women’s health should never be compromised, and ensuring proper medical oversight becomes even more critical when dealing with powerful medications like contraceptive pills.
We also had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Erica, a 29 year old nurse who has been working for the NHS for the past three years.
One of the first things we touched upon was whether or not Erica felt that Sunak’s proposal was going to help the NHS. In response she stated: “No, we have worked tirelessly for the last three years and most of us are still suffering from the physical and mental exhaustion from the pandemic. P, our work has doubled but our pay hasn’t increased to match.”
The medical professional continued: “The help in workload has not happened and we have already burned out. More focus has to be made to help nurses in dealing with their own health and wellbeing—something that’s been greatly impacted by the pandemic. I have colleagues who had to take a mental break from nursing for the first time in their long careers.”
We concluded our conversation by asking Erica how she feels the role of GP nurses might evolve in the future, and what impact the new proposal will have on demand in the nursing profession. She mused: “The skills required nowadays from a nurse have evolved and will continue to become more and more complex. The demand for nurses will not go down and will just increase as more people are living longer and suffering from more long-term conditions like diabetes, and high blood pressure. This has been a focus of the workforce crisis within the NHS for years now and it is not likely to diminish. But what I see is the government is not tackling the issue in an efficient way.”
So, as we navigate the possibilities of a more accessible health system, and while we love the idea of making our lives easier, it is crucial to keep our health at the forefront. The proposal to expand pharmacist prescriptions requires careful consideration and a well-thought out balance between convenience and quality care.
The other day, mid-commute, I received an automated text from my local general practice surgery (GP). I’ve received messages from my doctors and the National Health Service (NHS) before and, quite like a dodgy dark alleyway, they’ve always filled me with anxiety. I remember during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, I’d freeze whenever I saw those three letters pop up on my screen—worried that they’d inform me that I’d need to start isolating immediately.
That sense of dread has now subsided and so, extremely innocently, I peered down from behind my copy of Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’ and scanned the message nonchalantly, thinking that the text might have something to do with new appointment guidelines or something administrative. Unfortunately, this memo was far more upsetting than I could’ve imagined.
The text read: “Hi Charlotte, are you concerned about your weight? If this is something you are thinking about, there is a weight management service available to you. If you would like to use this service, please reply yes for a referral or no to decline. If you feel you have received this message inappropriately, please respond with your current height and weight to prevent further messages.”
I don’t think I can accurately express how truly devastating it was to receive this message. My stomach immediately dropped. I quickly put my phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ and shoved it into my work bag—seemingly thinking that that would make the message vanish into thin air.
I arrived at work and spent the entire day thinking about this text. Why had it been sent to me? Was it a personal attack, or a general automated message sent to every registered patient? And if it was personally meant for me, why? Did I have a weight issue? I’d always been insecure about my body, and I had recently put on weight. But I’d never expressed interest in a weight management service and I’d never had a one-to-one consultation with my doctor about this particular issue.
Regardless of its intent, the text had seriously rattled me and subsequently sent me into a highly toxic thought loop of self-deprecation and body insecurity. One that resulted in me completely panicking over lunch options and then guzzling two litres of water in an attempt to flush my system.
It’s clear that the NHS, as well as private GPs, are under immense pressure currently. Nurses are on strike for fair pay and better working conditions. Meanwhile, hospitals are completely overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion. It’s understandable that sometimes, these kinds of automated messages occur without any forethought or pretext.
However, the bluntness and unanticipated nature of this particular message has somewhat derailed my confidence in the health services I’m heavily encouraged to trust.
Promoting health services for those who’re interested and keen to join them is one thing. Practically forcing them upon disinclined individuals is a completely different story. Confronting weight change is a highly sensitive and anxiety-inducing process and pedalling out unsolicited weight shaming texts is the last way a GP practice is going to encourage any of their patients to pursue in-person consultations.
My qualm with this text is not to do with the clinic promoting what they consider to be a ‘healthy’ weight or lifestyle—although that could be an article in itself. My issue with this text is the delivery method. Out of the blue, zero context, zero follow up. I’m not sure what the practice thinks it’s accomplishing with this method, because personally, it’s only going to lessen my desire to ever seek help or guidance from them.