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Lancaster’s Nurse Unit will no longer have a licence to administer prescriptions from October, following the decision by the University not to register with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
New regulations put in place by the CQC mean that without registration prescriptions cannot be issued under the supervision of the campus GP Practice, as has previously happened. As a result, students will lose a convenient point of contact for emergency contraception.
In a statement to students, the University maintains that “the Nurse Unit is not an emergency service and any emergencies should be dealt with through 999 calls. The Nurse Unit continues to supply the general first aid and advice that it has offered in the past.”
Despite this reassurance, LUSU VP (Equality, Welfare and Diversity) Torri Crapper still has concerns. “Although no one pretends that it is an emergency service, the support the nurses provide is enormous. These changes not only threaten the wellbeing of the student population, but that of the staff too,” she told SCAN.
Tom Finnigan, Director of Student Based Services, played down the potential effect upon students, emphasising the point that prescriptions have only ever been issued under supervision of the GP practice. Finnigan said that “the focus should be to provide support for the wellbeing of students and not duplicate services provided by the NHS. As there is a GP practice on campus they should be the source for prescribed drugs.”
However, Crapper is critical of this, maintaining that the Nurse Unit offers a unique and useful service. “The Nurse Unit used to be able to hand out emergency contraception to students, and as a service open at the weekends it remained positive in its protection against unwanted pregnancies,” she said. “They can no longer provide this service without registering with the Care Quality Commission, which the University is not allowing them to do.”
Crapper remains hopeful that the decision can be successfully contested, emphasising that the University should prioritise the upkeep of the Nurse Unit service over possible cost-cutting or restructuring agendas. She hopes student opposition will be strong. “Here is hoping that the University begins to listen to the students, and actually allows this service to continue,” she said.
It is hoped that a formal campaign can be instigated, the responsibility for which will fall largely with the incoming LUSU VP (EWD), Pete Macmillan. Macmillan holds strong views about the role of the Nurse Unit, which he says provides “a fundamental service that the University should be trying its utmost to keep hold of.”
Any campaign launched is likely to be seen before the end of this academic year, with the decision to reduce Nurse Unit services coming into effect from October 2010. “If the campaign gets put together now, that means once we’ve secured the profile of the campaign, it gives me the basis to get on the front foot,” said Macmillan, who hopes to make progress with the issue for the start of the next academic year.
Emergency contraception is the service seen by both Crapper and Macmillan as arguably the most important offered by the Nurse Unit. For Macmillan, the easy availability of such a service, along with other vital short-run emergency treatments, is a reassurance for students and parents and a big selling point for the University. Without the Nurse Unit, said Macmillan, “the University is not fulfilling a promise that has potentially brought somebody to that university.”
Crapper sent out an advisory reminder to students that for the meantime “colleges and myself have a supply of free condoms available and also a list of the pharmacies in town which do provide free emergency contraception in the interim period, until we know what the University is planning for the Nurse Unit.”