Imagine being told by your GP that after months of ill-health all the tests confirm that you have a life-long condition. You may have to change your life to cope with your symptoms and have regular medical appointments. And what about work – how will they take it if you need to drop a shift at short notice because you’re unwell? Medication will help but as you are in work, not on benefits and live in England, you’ll need to pay £8.80 for every item on your prescription. How’s that going to affect the family finances?
As a community pharmacist I often hear exactly these kinds of concerns from people who come in clutching a prescription and needing advice. They’re not alone – around 15 million people in England have a long-term condition.
Some long-term conditions attract the prescription charge, but others don’t, which is deeply unfair. This situation has arisen because the list of those exempt from prescription charges was set up 50 years ago and hasn’t changed since. It was established at a time when people with certain illnesses weren’t expected to live that long and other conditions hadn’t even been discovered yet, for example genetic disorders, some autoimmune diseases and HIV.
Large scale surveys of patients consistently show that 1 in 3 people who work and have a long-term condition struggle to afford their medicines. Some have to ration the medicines they take. People frequently say to me about their prescription “I can’t afford all of these – which one can I do without?” Others have to choose between paying for their medicines or household bills. They face medicines poverty because they have an illness they don’t want.
The same surveys show that around 1 in 5 people with a long-term condition don’t buy a pre-payment certificate, a kind of season ticket for people needing regular medication, because they feel they don’t get enough prescriptions to benefit from one. This is particularly true if your condition fluctuates and some months you need a lot of medicines and then others you don’t. Buying a pre-payment certificate is also beyond the means of many at £104 per year. If you are on a zero hours contract with a variable monthly income, paying regular instalments for medicines you may or may not need that month becomes a luxury you can’t afford.
Prescription charges act as a tax on the sick that impacts on people’s health. If you can’t afford to take the medicines you need regularly and you become really unwell, the Government ends up paying for the knock-on expense of hospital admissions and at around £400 a day for a hospital bed that’s a significant cost. This isn’t a party political issue. The problem has existed for decades.
The Prescription Charges Coalition is an organisation made up of 40 charities campaigning to abolish unfair prescription charges for people with long term conditions. It is calling on all political parties to abolish the unfair list of selective medical exemptions drawn up in 1968 and ease the financial burden on those least able to pay, improving health and reducing costs in the long-term too. Join the campaign today by signing the e-petition today and help end medicines poverty for those with life-long conditions who can’t afford to pay for their medicines.
Sandra Gidley, Royal Pharmaceutical Society
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