The Prescription Charges Coalition brings together over 40 organisations calling on the Government to extend exemption from prescription charges to all those with long-term conditions in England
In recent years, there has been a broad political consensus that the current system is unfair, as some long-term conditions qualify people for free prescriptions whilst others don’t. This sense of unfairness has been exacerbated since the introduction of free prescriptions for people living in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In May 2009, the then Government commissioned an independent review of prescription charges by Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, former President of the Royal College of Physicians. He recommended that all those with long-term conditions should be exempt from prescription charges and outlined how this policy could be introduced. However, later that year it was announced that this would not go ahead.
In October 2010, the incoming Coalition Government confirmed that it would not introduce free prescriptions for people with long-term conditions at this stage, but would ‘explore options for creating a fairer system of prescription charges and exemptions’. The current Government states that "there are no plans to change the existing list of medical conditions which provide eligibility to exemption from the prescription charge."
Over the last decade, research by the Prescription Charges Coalition, Citizens Advice, Asthma UK, Rethink Mental Illness and Parkinson's UK, among others, has demonstrated time and again the impact of prescription charges on people with long term conditions. Our research, surveying thousands of people with long-term conditions, demonstrates that prescription charges are a major barrier to people taking their medicines effectively, leading them to severely compromise their health. This results in poorer quality of life, worse health outcomes, additional treatment, unplanned hospital admissions, decreased productivity and increased reliance on benefits. The medical exemption criteria, set in 1968 and largely unchanged since, are out-of-date and arbitrary. As the criteria will be 50 years old in June 2018, we believe reform is now long overdue.
You can get free NHS prescriptions in England if, at the time the prescription is dispensed, you:
- are 60 or over
- are under 16
- are 16-18 and in full-time education
- are pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months and have a valid maternity exemption certificate (MatEx)
- have a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
- have a continuing physical disability that prevents you from going out without help from another person and have a valid MedEx
- hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability
- are an NHS inpatient
Medical exemption certificates are issued on application to people who have:
- a permanent fistula (for example caecostomy, colostomy, laryngostomy or ileostomy) requiring continuous surgical dressing or requiring an appliance
- a form of hypoadrenalism (for example Addison's disease) for which specific substitution therapy is essential
- diabetes insipidus or other forms of hypopituitarism
- diabetes mellitus, except where treatment is by diet alone
- hypoparathyroidism (blood deficiency which can cause muscle spasms)
- myasthenia gravis (abnormal weakness of certain muscles)
- myxoedema (that is, hypothyroidism requiring thyroid hormone replacement)
- epilepsy requiring continuous anticonvulsive therapy
- a continuing physical disability which means the person cannot go out without the help of another person. Temporary disabilities do not count even if they last for several months
- Or are undergoing treatment for cancer: including the effects of cancer, or the effects of current or previous cancer treatment