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Prescription charges

Scrap prescription charges for all long-term conditions, charities urge

The cost of prescriptions is putting many patients off collecting the medicines they need, a new report has found.

A third of patients with long-term conditions who pay for prescriptions have not collected their medicines because of the cost, a report[1] from the Prescription Charges Coalition says

The coalition is calling for an extension of prescription charge exemptions in England to cover everyone with a long-term condition. 

According to a survey of 5,600 people with long-term conditions carried out by the group of 40 major health charities, some patients also miss or skip doses due to cost.

The results found that 88% of patients with conditions such as Parkinson’s, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis required on average two prescriptions a month. 

Costs involved

Prescriptions in England currently cost £8.60 or patients can get prepayment certificates at £29.10 for three months or one year for £104, but the coalition said the scheme is not widely publicised. 

There are no prescription charges in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

It is estimated that around 90% of prescriptions in England are currently dispensed without charge, but the coalition said working-age people with long-term conditions make up most of those who do pay.

In all, 76% (4,264) are currently paying for their prescriptions either through the prepayment certificate or, for 29% of patients, on a per-item basis.

The results found that 30% of those who pay for prescriptions say they sometimes miss or reduce their doses, and 43% (551) gave “the cost of the prescription” as a reason. 

Also 44% (567) stated that not paying for prescriptions “would definitely make a difference” in encouraging them to take their medications as prescribed, while a further 31% (400) stated that it “might make a difference”.

Patients deteriorate

The survey also found that as a direct result of reducing or skipping medications, 59% became more ill, with half of these needing to take time off work and 34% needing to visit their GP or hospital.

Laura Cockram, head of policy and campaigning at Parkinson’s UK, the charity that co-chairs the Prescription Charges Coalition, says it is a “travesty” that prescription charges are preventing people from getting the treatment they need and that it goes against the “very principle of the NHS”. 

“We’ve heard distressing and alarming experiences from people who are facing impossible choices over whether they should eat, heat their home or pay for essential medications to treat life-threatening conditions.”

She adds that working-age people with long-term conditions are disproportionately affected by prescription charges. 

“We also believe the charges are draining vital resources, costing the NHS more in the long term, due to people’s need to access GP and hospital care when they can’t afford their medication.

“We urgently need a review and overhaul of the current system to ensure it is fit for purpose and supports people facing long-term and increasing medication costs.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20203105

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