Post-its from Practice:
Sun, surf & Schengen (Aug 2006)
Last Friday (11th August 2006) I travelled through Stansted, passport and purse to hand in their regulation clear plastic bag. Surrounded by tired infants, brittle nerves and raised voices, I pondered how much more anxious I might be if I had prescribed methadone in my hold baggage and a UK export licence in my clear plastic bag.
The current UK export licence scheme is long established: we apply to the Home Office on behalf of the patient, giving information about their prescription, and the Home Office sends a personal export licence direct to the patient. (The Home Office contact details have changed recently (Ref 1).) The export licence only applies to leaving the UK but, it is argued, its existence supports the arriving traveller's claim of legitimate possession. Unfortunately, we have found that some countries (in particular, Italy) do not subscribe to this opinion and several of our patients have had their medication seized by immigration. This is a pity - because it doesn't need to happen...
Surfing the net is so often a process led by intention but guided by chance. So it was that I discovered a German website for substance misusers that reminded its readers to obtain their Schengen certificate in good time for their forthcoming summer holidays. In Norway, the certificate is available through the dispensing pharmacist, although the Netherlands have decided that the matter should be controlled from a central government office. Here in the UK, the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, nominated the Home Office as "the competent authority to issue Schengen Certificates". (15 February 2000).
A Schengen Certificate authorises the holder to carry up to 30 days supply of prescribed controlled medication for personal use AND to travel freely across national borders within the "Schengen states" (Ref 2). In 1999, the UK chose to implement "those measures of the Schengen acquis, now integrated into the EU Treaties, that relate to law-enforcement and criminal judicial co-operation, including the SIS". This includes Article 75: Schengen Certificates, whose primary aim is to keep those carrying prescribed medication out of the criminal justice system. However, the certificates inadvertently also help us in our strategy of harm reduction.
When e-mailed recently about Schengen certificates, the Home Office stated that, as the present system works, there was no immediate intention of changing their current practice. In a further reply to our experience with the Italian authorities, the Home Office pleaded ignorance but are happy to receive information on any future incidents.
As I took off my shoes before being frisked by airport security, I decided that, on balance, I would prefer to have a Schengen certificate, rather than an export licence, in my plastic bag. If providing evidence to the Home Office is "what it takes" to get them for our patients, then please email the helpful Mr Evans on MichaelAnthony.Evans@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk with any travel problems that have come to your notice and enclose my best wishes.
1. Home Office, Drugs Branch, 6th Floor Peel Building, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF
2. The following countries fully implement the provisions of the Schengen acquis: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. The newly acceded EU countries (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) are not expected to fully implement the Schengen acquis until the end of 2007.