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The pill and a failure to protect: my experience with the NHS

Sharing medical information between doctors and pharmasists for something as simple as the contraceptive pill remains painfully slow

Anonymous

Any student knows the hassle of getting a doctor’s appointment. While we know that the National Health Service tries as hard as possible to deal with our issues, from that first pesky freshers’ flu to more serious concerns, it is almost impossible to get an appointment quickly.

That’s in term time. When we return home, we have the added struggle of re-registering or signing up as a temporary patient, which are not always well received.

A recent experience at my local surgery and pharmacy was one I hope I never have to go through again.

Having just finished my period, I reached inside my drawer in my bedroom to pick out my next contraceptive pill strip. I just couldn’t find one.

Having moved recently, it was well within reason that the pills had gone missing, or I had just misplaced them. However, I was also travelling the next day and I really needed the medication at short notice.

This put me in the position of having to potentially skip a month until I returned to University, which as the girls among you know, isn’t really recommended.

Trying to be responsible, I called my university surgery to enquire about the name of my pill and ask if it would be possible to fax a prescription to my pharmacy. They said that this would not be possible until I sent them a signed envelope with my new address on it, a process which can take weeks.

At this point, I called the local pharmacy to enquire whether I could receive the pill without a prescription, to buy it over the counter in the shop, and they agreed that this would be absolutely fine.

On arrival however, they said that they did require a prescription after all.

Met by this brick wall, the pharmacist tried to help further by taking me into the office to see if he could find my details on his system. Yet, as he could not access my non-electronic Welsh records from England, I was stuck again.

My next step was the doctors nearby. The nurses and practice manager here were fantastic. They tried all they could to help, saying that they could call my registered surgery to try and get the prescription as soon as possible. They still needed written confirmation from the university surgery before this became possible however.

As it was fairly late, it was unlikely that they could do this on the same day. They told me that if I came back the next day, they might be able to give it to me. However, to wait for this appointment would mean missing my train the next day.

The end result saw me unable to attend a further appointment, and in turn, unable to obtain the prescription. Hours of my time, as well as that of pharmacists, nurses and a practice manager, had come to nothing. I was no closer to having my pill than I had been when I realised I was out.

This article is not meant to criticise any members of staff who tried to help me. Almost every person was kind and instructive. Instead, this article aims to question a system which, in this case, has failed to protect.

A system which, rather than dealing with the issue themselves, seemed to keep trying to sign-post me to other services: sexual health clinics, other pharmacies and hospitals.

While, I know that I was at fault in leaving this issue so late, I can’t help being shocked at the failure to help an individual trying to be responsible about her sexual health. It almost feels like a slap in the face considering the amount we read in the press about young peoples’ ‘lack of sexual health care’.

Our generation is constantly criticised for our ‘sexual freedom’ and the number of teenage pregnancies. Is this merited when it can be incredibly difficult to obtain preventatives, especially on short notice?

The NHS is a fantastic system and having family members who have worked in it, I wholeheartedly support it. Increasingly however, it seems that the cracks in the system are widening, not just due to a lack of funding, but also as a result of disorganisation and failures to work as a truly cohesive organisation.

Some may say that this article is pointless, as it is easily possible to obtain condoms to support sexual health. But, what if the condom splits? A girl should not have to take the “morning after pill” just in case there is an accident.

In my view, sexual health will only be entirely equal and accessible when it is as easy to obtain the pill as it is to buy condoms. I believe for this to happen, the NHS needs to become truly national and cohesive, making all student records easily accessible online from each country and every health board in the UK.

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