As part of the Autumn Statement, the Government announced a Back to Work Plan which provides support for health and employment schemes and tougher sanctions for those claiming disability.
Those sanctioned could be denied access to welfare payments and other benefits like free prescriptions or help with energy bills.
Disability campaigners and Prescription Charges Coalition members are really worried about this announcement, as it could further harm the health of people living with long-term conditions, many of whom may not be able to work.
Commenting, Laura Cockram Chair of the Coalition said:
“It's worrying that at a time when the Government should be trying to help more people manage the cost of living, they are instead looking at punitive measures for those who are unemployed.
"Not only will threatening unemployed people with the removal of free prescriptions fail to encourage them back into work, it will likely lead to further health inequality.
“Everyone should be able to access the medications they need, regardless of their employment status. Research from the Prescription Charges Coalition shows that being unable to afford your medicines leads to poor health, lost productivity and costly and avoidable hospital admissions.”
The Prescription Charges Coalition has welcomed the UK Government’s promise to scrap harsh proposals that would have ended free prescriptions for 60 to 65-year-olds - but says there still needs to be an urgent review of the outdated prescription charge exemption list.
The Coalition, which brings together around 50 organisations and professional bodies to campaign to scrap prescription charges in England for people with long-term conditions, say the measures would have prevented even more patients from accessing essential medication, which keeps them well and in many cases, alive.
It says prescription charges are leading to patients stopping their medication, cutting tablets in half or only picking up some of their prescriptions due to the crippling cost of living. The Coalition argues that if patients skip their medication it leads to further health problems which cost the NHS significantly more.
The group says prescriptions are unaffordable for many, costing £9.65 for a single item. A three month prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) is £31.25 and a 12 month PPC is £111.60. The recently introduced HRT PPC is £19.30.
Laura Cockram, Chair of the Prescription Charges Coalition and Head of Policy and Campaigns for Parkinson’s UK, said she was relieved the UK Government was not pressing ahead with the worrying proposals but called for a review of the prescription charge exemption list.
She said: “We are pleased to hear the UK Government is scrapping this plan. We know this is a false economy as making people pay for prescriptions can actually cost the NHS more in the long term. And we know this policy would have put financial pressure on an older population which we fear could have had disastrous consequences for their health.
“However abandoning this unpopular plan doesn’t address the underlying problem that the prescription charge exemption system needs to be reviewed urgently. It is putting the health of patients at risk which we fear will intensify as the charges increase.
“Right now, people are having to make very difficult choices about whether they feed their families, pay bills or take their medication, which is essential for them staying well. Instead the charges force unwell people to rely more on the NHS, which is already at breaking point.
“The UK Government’s bid to create a healthier nation will fail if it doesn’t commit to reviewing the outdated prescription charge exemption list."
Read our latest research on the impact of prescription charges on people with long-term conditions.
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:
This week we met with Rachael Maskell MP, a member of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee. Rachael met with us on behalf of the new Chair of the Committee, Steve Brine MP.
During the meeting, we were joined by Dr Aaron Brown who is a GP living with cystic fibrosis. He shared his thoughts about prescription charges for people with long-term conditions.
We discussed our call for a review of the outdated prescription charge exemption list and explored how the committee could amplify our voice. This is part of the Coalition’s wider work to increase the profile of our campaigning to scrap the charge for all people with long-term conditions.
At the meeting we shared stories of those who are choosing between missing their medication or buying everyday essentials. We stressed the inherent unfairness of the exemption list which leaves many people with long-term conditions in England paying for their medicines to stay alive and well.
We look forward to continuing to work with Rachael and the committee in the New Year.
I am a Public Affairs Officer at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and have been involved with the Coalition for the last year.
The last few months have seen a lot of debate about the spiralling cost of living. This post shares some of the work the Coalition has been doing to keep prescription charges on the UK government's agenda.
Some people with long-term health conditions have told us that paying for their medicines is causing them sleepless nights.
While we welcomed the charge being frozen earlier in the year we know it's still a steep price to pay to stay healthy.
Jade, who lives with Cystic Fibrosis shared her experience with us: "The year I turned 19, I was in my first year at university. I had just about found my feet, managing my complex and exhausting chronic health condition independently for the first time in my life, whilst also studying full-time. The day my friendly campus pharmacist told me that he would have to start charging me for my prescriptions, his voice quiet and his eyes unable to meet mine, it felt like I was being punished with yet another hurdle. That day, I left without my essential medications and I went home in tears.
"Everywhere I go, people are shocked and incredulous that I have to pay for my prescriptions. Friends, strangers, even healthcare providers – everyone can see the injustice. The cost of an annual £108.10 pre-payment certificate feels like a kick in the teeth, like I’m paying to stay alive.
"It’s only right that the outdated exemption rules are reconsidered, to acknowledge that people with Cystic Fibrosis are now living into their 40s, 50s and beyond."
In May the Coalition wrote to Jeremy Hunt, the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee asking him to support our calls for the UK government to review the prescription charges exemption list. The list hasn't been comprehensively reviewed since its introduction in 1968, apart from the addition of cancer in 2009.
In June supporters from Coalition member organisations shared their stories on Twitter urging Jeremy Hunt to investigate the charge. This additional pressure has helped to secure a meeting with him in September. As we prepare for the meeting we're keen to gather examples of how the charge has affected you - please send your story into our email email@example.com
We're also working with campaign group 38 degrees to understand whether their supporters have been able to get their medicine as the cost of living rises. And we plan to share this short survey on this site, so we can capture your experiences too.
The Department of Health and Social Care have confirmed that prescription charges will not rise in 2022.
We are pleased as we know people with long term conditions are struggling to afford their vital medication, with the rising cost of living. That's why we're calling on the UK Government to review the list and scrap the charge.
Our comment was picked up by The Daily Express. Pharmacy organisations who are members of the Coalition shared examples of how damaging the charge is, as patients make tough decision about what medications they leave behind, because they simply can't afford them.
A Coalition spokesperson said:
“We welcome the decision to freeze prescription charges this year, however the English Government still lags behind their Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts in recognising that this charge is a false economy and must be scrapped entirely.
“Despite the freeze, the cost of living continues to spiral, so pharmacists are seeing an increase in the number of people asking which items they could leave behind and live without, simply because they can not afford them.
“It’s entirely unfair that the UK Government is putting this unnecessary pressure on pharmacists to have to provide counsel on which of these vital medications should be prioritised by the patient. That is not their job and it’s seldom a simple answer.
“When people miss or delay taking essential medication, their condition deteriorates and they are more likely to rely on NHS services more, or even end up in hospital.
“These are entirely avoidable admissions which cost the NHS millions, and can have damaging consequences for the patient.
“We have recently seen that the UK Government is willing to make changes to how HRT is charged, but now it's time to make healthcare equitable for all.”
The current system of prescription charges in England affects the most vulnerable people in society and makes the health inequality in this country worse.
At the NPA, it’s been our longstanding position that people should not be denied access to prescription medicines on the basis of their ability to pay.
As pharmacists, we understand the healing power of medicines. We also know from first-hand experience that people on low fixed incomes who do not qualify for exemption suffer greatly from the current system.
From a pharmacist’s point of view, processing prescription levies is a task which adds workload but has no patient benefit. We are health care professionals and have no interest in being tax collectors!
We also believe there would be little return on investment to the NHS from proposals to aligning the upper age for NHS prescription charges at 65 years old, due to the various operational costs. It could also lead to indirect cost to the NHS as people’s health suffers from making a reluctant choice not to take their medicines as prescribed.
All prescriptions should be exempt from charges regardless of age or medical condition, as is the case in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Far more value for money can be achieved in the drugs budget by reducing waste and improving medicines use, for example through the NHS New Medicines Service, which has recently been expanded to include Parkinson’s, heart failure and stroke.
Pharmacists, like other health care professionals, experience great pressures on their time and they want to spend it with patients, not with paperwork associated with prescription charges.
The National Pharmacy Association is glad to be part of the prescription charges coalition, seeking reform of this outdated, illogical and unfair system.
Helga is Policy Manager at The National Pharmacy Association.
Here you'll find information about the Prescription Charges Coalition's latest activities