At the moment, people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don’t pay for their prescriptions, whereas in England, those who are working do, unless they have “medical exemption”. This exemption is only available to people with conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, and some forms of cancer (for a full list, see the Medical Exemptions section of this NHS Choices page ).
The prescription levy rose to £8.40 per item in April this year, so it’s creeping ever closer to the £10 mark. This can be really costly every month, especially if someone needs several prescription-only items. If this applies to you, read my blog Help with prescription costs in England
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has campaigned in the past to end the prescription charge for all people with long term conditions who are working. Now a renewed campaign has been launched, backed by over 40 other organisations, including disability rights groups and health charities.
One argument against free prescriptions could be the escalating prices of medication combined with the growing number of people living with long term conditions, but the Chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board describes the medical exemption system as a “medical lottery” because some people of working age pay whilst others receive them for free. You can listen to her interview on BBC Radio Stoke on the RPS website
The Prescription Charges Coalition’s Paying the Price report highlights the impact that prescription charges are having on people with long-term conditions. This research found that 35% of people who work and have an ongoing health problem had gone without a prescription item because of the cost, with three quarters of these people saying their health had worsened as a result, and some had been admitted to hospital as a direct consequence of not taking their medication.
When I worked in a pharmacy there were many times people asked us which prescription-only items they could go without because they couldn’t afford them all. There was one occasion when someone with asthma who could only afford two charges was having to choose which to pay for out of his two inhalers (which are life-saving treatments) and an acute prescription for antibiotics for a chest infection which was worsening his asthma.
An example from the Paying the Price report:
“Rheumatoid arthritis is for life. A chronic disease with no cure. The quality of my life is dependent on a cocktail of 10 different drugs. With them, I can almost live a normal life, without them, I would be a burden on society, needing constant long term care at a huge cost to the state”
The key recommendation by the coalition is to include all people with any long term conditions medically exempt from prescription charges. The other recommendations are:
- Prescribers could increase the duration of prescriptions so that the charges need to be paid less often e.g. every 6 months instead of every month
- People with long term conditions need to be told about exemption, low income scheme and prepayment certificates when they are first diagnosed and at medication reviews to make sure they know how to save money (see Help with prescription costs )
- Any changes to benefits, such as the introduction of Universal Credit, should take into account whether people with long-term conditions could afford their medication
Visit the Prescription Charges Coalition website to find out more about the campaign. The website makes it easy to join in by generating an email to send to your MP.
There’s some useful advice and information for people with M.E. who work in the Living with M.E. section of Action for M.E.’s website