A survey of over 4,000 people with long-term conditions, including those with Parkinson’s, on prescription charges, has found the charge is a barrier to accessing medicine.
The findings come following the UK government's announcement that the prescription charge will rise on 1 April 2023.
The Prescription Charges Coalition, which brings together around 50 organisations and professional bodies to campaign to scrap prescription charges in England for people with long-term conditions, conducted the survey between February and March.
The survey shows that people with long-term health conditions that cannot afford their medication are seeing an increase in GP visits, trips to accident and emergency (A&E), and hospital stays. Some survey respondents reported they had to stay in hospital for up to 6 weeks. Not being able to afford medicine has also led to mental health issues and increased time off work.
Read the full report.
Review the prescription charge exemption list
Some serious conditions, such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s and Colitis, motor neurone disease, cystic fibrosis, stroke and Parkinson's, are still not included on the exemptions list despite the need for medication to stay well and, in many cases, alive.
England is the only UK country where people have to pay for their medicines.
The Coalition argues that if patients skip their medication it leads to further health problems which cost the NHS significantly more.
It has condemned the decision to raise the cost of prescription charges, sharing that the rise will result in sick people relying more on NHS services that are already at breaking point.
Laura Cockram, Chair of the Prescription Charges Coalition and Head of Policy and Campaigns for Parkinson’s UK, said:
"We are deeply concerned about these findings which is a clear message that the prescription charge exemption system needs urgent reform.
"It is not meeting the needs of people with long-term conditions and is putting their health at risk, which we fear will intensify as the charges increase on 1 April.
"The charges for people with long-term health conditions fail those who are being forced to make tough choices every day about whether they feed their families, pay their bills or take their medication. As we have seen from our survey, medication could keep them out of hospital.
"We know the price rise will result in sick people relying more on NHS services that are already at breaking point.
"Far from this government’s aim of improving life expectancy for people with stroke, dementia, asthma and mental ill health, this increase in the prescription charge will create a health emergency for people with these conditions and other long-term conditions in England.
"The UK government must urgently commit to reviewing the prescription charges exemption list, or it will fail in its bid to create a healthier nation."
Thorrun Govind, board chair for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, described prescription charges as an “unfair tax on the sick”.
She added: “Ongoing prescription charges in England prioritise revenue generation over the prevention of ill-health and undermine the principle of an NHS free at the point of use. Pharmacy teams often see people struggle to afford all the medicines they need, which can lead to further health problems and extra costs to the NHS. We need urgent reform of the whole system.”
Sarah Sleet, chief executive at Crohn’s and Colitis UK, added:
“Right now, there are over 500,000 people in the UK living with Crohn’s and Colitis. They take medications every day to control and treat the symptoms of these lifelong conditions for which there is no known cure.
“Almost 60 per cent of the people who responded to the survey were from the Crohn’s and Colitis community, so we know this is a huge issue. Life with a chronic illness is stressful enough without having to choose between paying your bills or paying for the medicines you desperately need.
“The list of conditions that are exempt from prescription charges is outdated and urgently needs reviewing to include Crohn’s, Colitis and many other life-changing chronic illnesses.”
Government action needed now
The Coalition is calling for the UK government to:
This NHS page shares information on who is entitled to free prescriptions, and how you can get help with costs. It also shares information on the prescription prepayment certificate, that can spread your costs over 3 or 12 months.
On Monday 6 March, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust delivered over 1300 petition signatures to No.10 Downing Street, calling on the Prime Minister to urgently review the outdated prescription charges exemption list.
The list was drawn up in the late 1960s when most people with cystic fibrosis did not live beyond childhood.
Each of these messages was personally written by a member of the cystic fibrosis community, explaining the impact paying prescription charges has on them and asked the Prime Minister to urgently review the prescription exemption list.
For those with cystic fibrosis who earn just over the income exemption threshold, removing the annual cost of the prepayment certificate would make a huge difference.
We believe this needs to change as it is not right that people with the condition should face this burden and must pay to extend their lives. That's why the Trust supports the Coalition's call for the UK Government to review the prescription charges exemption list for people with long term conditions.
The cost of prescriptions are just one more thing that people with cystic fibrosis face, alongside additional food, energy and travel costs. A University of Bristol study shows that the additional financial burden of living with cystic fibrosis is £6500 per year.
Grace Paget, Cystic Fibrosis Trust Public Affairs Officer
Health Minister Neil O'Brien announced today that prescription charges in England will rise by 3.21%.
From 1 April 2023 people in England will have to pay:
Laura Cockram, Chair of the Prescription Charges Coalition, condemned the UK Government’s decision to raise the cost of prescription charges.
“Today’s announcement is bitterly disappointing for people with long term health conditions in England. It fails those who are being forced to make tough choices everyday about whether they feed themselves and their families, pay their bills or take their medication, which could keep them out of hospital.
“This decision reflects the Government’s disregard for the needs of people with long term health conditions, who are already avoiding picking up their prescriptions, because they can’t afford them. This rise will result in sick people relying more on NHS services that are already at breaking point.
“Far from this government’s aim of improving life expectancy for people with stroke, dementia, asthma and mental ill health, this increase in the prescription charge will create a health emergency for people with these conditions and other long term conditions in England. The UK Government must urgently commit to reviewing the prescription charges exemption list, or it will fail in its bid to create a healthier nation.”
You can find out more about the Prescription Prepayment Certificate or help you can get with NHS costs on the NHS Business Services Authority website.
Peter, who is worried about affording his prescriptions in the future, started a petition, which got over 46,000 signatures and it was debated in Parliament.
Tonia Antonazzi MP for Gower led the debate and shared many of the arguments the Coalition have been presenting to the government, these include:
Others supported the petitioners' call for prescription charges to be protected for those over 60, including Margaret Ferrier MP and Marion Fellows MP from Scotland, where prescriptions are already free.
Taiwo Owatemi, a pharmacist and MP from Coventry North West highlighted the latest evidence from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society survey where community pharmacists shared they are being asked to give advice on which medicine can be left behind by their patients, as they simply can't afford them. She also urged the Government to review the outdated prescription charge exemption list.
Shadow Health Minister Andrew Gwynne MP urged the government Minister to freeze prescription charges this year and reassure those over 60 that their prescriptions will remain free.
Neil O'Brien, the government Minister with responsibility for prescription charges, responded by:
Here you'll find information about the Prescription Charges Coalition's latest activities