In late November 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to make legislation which effectively paves the way for the provision of free sanitary products to those who require them whilst in Scotland.
The Bill, which was brought forward by Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon, was passed unanimously by 121 votes to 0 and marks a major step forward for women’s healthcare in Scotland.
The Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill makes it a legal right for women to have access to tampons, sanitary pads and reusable devices such as the menstrual cup via their provision in schools, colleges, universities and other “public service bodies”.
Whilst the legislation is ground-breaking and a brilliant move towards ending period poverty how exactly is this going to work logistically?
And what is exactly meant by the term “public service bodies” and will that include community pharmacies and GP Practices in Scotland?
“Public service bodies” are defined as “(a) constituted by or under an enactment, and (b) having functions that consist of or include providing public services or otherwise serving the public interest” in the legislation.
So, the answer is all about interpretation, which is the way most UK Government Legislation works. It becomes the responsibility of the organisations who implement the will of the Scottish Parliament, in consultation with the Scottish Government to determine the best way to achieve the desired outcome.
Public Bodies in Scotland are defined as:
“One type of organisation within Scotland’s devolved public sector, which collectively includes the police, fire and health services, local government, and others. A public body is an organisation for which either the Scottish Government or Scottish Parliament is responsible and with whom they have a direct relationship. Not all public sector bodies share the same relationship with government or operate within the same public bodies framework.”
You can read more about this definition here.
Logistically how will this work?
Is it fair to assume that companies who can provide these products will need to tender to each of the 32 unitary authorities which make up local government in Scotland?
Or will it be a case of national tendering directly to the Scottish Government?
And with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccinations, it seems that it is a lot for Scottish logistics to handle in such a short space of time.
But it will be achieved.
It must be achieved.
Going back to my earlier point concerning community pharmacy and GP practices, will a patient be able to walk into either and be provided with free sanitary products in a dignified fashion? Or will they be signposted by staff to the closest public body such as a library or even a police station?
It should be that community pharmacies and GP practices are included in the list of places which can provide free sanitary products, and indeed shouldn’t the political representatives of both bodies be urging the Scottish Government to include them?
The supply chain to pharmacy and GP practices is extremely robust and has been in place for decades and GP practices and pharmacies are the perfect location to pick up free sanitary products as they are in nearly every small rural location as well as on the High Street of all towns and cities. It is vital to understand that smaller rural location will not have a library or other public body such as a police station or even a school.
And surely the most obvious place for free period products to be handed out are GP practices and community pharmacies as they are the natural place to go to for healthcare products.
Pharmacy and dispensing GPs are used to handling the dispensing of medicines to their patients, so why not include free sanitary products at the same time?
There is also already a reimbursement system in place for community pharmacy and dispensing doctors in Scotland and if there was a simple dispensing fee for the provision of free sanitary products it would be a win-win all around. This would also help to fill the gap in lost income for community pharmacy where they would previously have made a margin on the sale of sanitary products to their customers.
And lastly, the provision of free sanitary products could be a springboard for innovative products such as the menstrual cup which is a reusable device which it is argued is better for the environment.
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