“SOONER or later somebody is going to get the wrong medication and die” — that’s the warning from a councillor concerned about the availability of pillboxes in Wokingham borough.

An investigation by Healthwatch Wokingham Borough revealed dozens of pharmacies from Swallowfield to Sonning are no longer taking new customers who require medication compliance aids (MCA).

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The aids are a way of dispensing medication for people who may have difficulty remembering or accessing tablets or pills due to cognitive or physical impairments.

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One resident, Mrs M who is aged 78, received her regular medication from her Wokingham pharmacy in a Nomad pack — but following a hospital stay she found this service was not being provided anymore.

She told Healthwatch: “I’m really struggling to see and open the medicine packs, and so worried that I’m going to take the wrong pill at the wrong time.

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“Having the easy packs meant I could clearly see what I had to take when.

“Now I’m worried and confused.”

Another elderly woman told Healthwatch she found she could no longer order her medication in an MCA.

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The pharmacist at her GP surgery told her she must find a different pharmacist who can provide the service, but the elderly lady said all the pharmacies she contacted were at capacity.

The investigation’s findings were revealed at a meeting of Wokingham Borough Council’s (WBC) health overview and scrutiny committee on Monday, January 20.

Reacting to the research, councillor Adrian Mather said: “Sooner or later somebody is going to get the wrong medication and die.”

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Healthwatch found only pharmacies in Twyford, Crowthorne, Finchampstead and Wargrave were still taking customers.

The reasons some of the 28 pharmacies contacted by Healthwatch gave for not taking new customers or changing their service included:

A long dispensing time — MCAs take longer to fill than other standard packaging

Staff shortages meaning employees did not have the time to fill MCAs

The high cost of the service means it is “becoming difficult” for pharmacies to justify providing it

Councillors asked Healthwatch representative Jim Stockley how this problem might be solved.

He told them: “We make it financially acceptable for pharmacies to do the work.

“You need a qualified pharmacist to dispense. You have to pay someone to do the job. It’s not five minutes to dispense, it is one hour.

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“Even for the smaller pharmacies, it is not economic for them. For good or ill, pharmacies have to operate as a business. If anybody is operating a business and found there operating costs go up, they go bust.”

Healthwatch’s report revealed smaller, independent pharmacies are taking on more customers from neighbouring areas to support residents, but they will not be able to this indefinitely and “this is likely to become a bigger issue as time goes on.”