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Cost of prescriptions prevent people from getting necessary medication

A third of people living with long-term conditions and currently paying prescription charges have not collected their prescriptions due to concerns over cost, according to a new report released today (29 June 2017) by the Prescription Charges Coalition, a coalition of more than 40 major health charities, including the British Liver Trust.

The coalition surveyed more than 5,600 people living with long-term conditions such as Parkinson’s, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Rheumatoid Arthritis for its Still Paying the Price report. The findings have revealed a concerning picture of people struggling to bear the costs of prescriptions, with many putting their health at risk by skipping or reducing doses of medication or not collecting prescriptions altogether.

Prescription charges apply in England only, while all patients in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are entitled to receive their prescriptions for free.

Of the 4,200 people who took part in the coalition’s research and are currently paying for their prescriptions, nearly a third (30%) admitted that they are skipping or reducing medication doses, with cost concerns a key factor for more than four out of ten (43%).

And as a direct result of reducing or skipping medications:

  • Nearly three in five (59%) became more ill, with half of these needing to take time off work.
  • 34% needed to visit their GP or hospital.

Laura Cockram, Head of Policy and Campaigning at Parkinson’s UK (which co-chairs the Prescription Charges Coalition) said: “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.

“It’s a travesty that prescription charges are preventing people from getting the treatment they need. This situation is dangerous and goes against the very principle of our NHS.

“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.”

The coalition is calling for an extension of prescription charge exemptions to cover everyone with a long-term condition, to ensure a fair and sustainable system that supports people to stay well.

Ms Cockram continued:

“The list of conditions exempt from charges has barely changed since 1968 and fails to include most long-term conditions that are prevalent today.

“As a result, working age people with long-term – often life-long – conditions are disproportionately affected by prescription charges, on top of facing the extra cost of managing their health and lower-than-average incomes due to their often limited ability to work.

“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.”

At the moment, working age people with long-term conditions are contributing the bulk of the £523.5 million that the Government receives in prescription charges revenue.

The coalition believes the financial consequences of people not being able to afford their medication is likely to be far greater for the NHS and wider economy than the estimated £360-430 million (which is less than half a per cent of the NHS budget in 2015/16) that free prescriptions for working-age people with long-term conditions would cost.

Zoe Oakley, 37, from Poole, has high blood pressure due to inherited polycystic kidney disease. She said: “I’ve ended up in hospital twice because I wasn’t able to afford the blood pressure medication prescribed to handle my condition.

“The first time, I woke up with a horrible headache and my blood pressure spiked to the point that I needed to get an ambulance to hospital, where I had a lumbar puncture and an MRI scan to make sure there was no bleeding in my brain. You cannot tell me that that was less expensive for the NHS than covering the cost of my prescription.”

Each prescription in England costs £8.60. Prescription Prepayment Certificates, available for three months at a cost of £29.10 or one year for £104, cover all prescription costs for the time period paid for. These certificates are not widely publicised, however, with 40 per cent of survey respondents saying they found out about the scheme more than a year after their diagnosis.

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