In just two days, on Sunday 10 June, the Medical Exemption List, which determines who is exempt from prescriptions charges and who must pay, will be 50 years old. In that time, advances in medicine have been remarkable, yet five decades on, the list remains largely unchanged. It is glaringly obvious that the list is no longer in step with the needs of people with long-term conditions.
Throughout our campaign, we have heard from thousands of people, who have been forced to make impossible decisions so they can afford their life-saving medication. These stories show the profound personal impact prescription charges have on people’s day-to-day lives and their ability to manage their condition safely.
As we near the 50th anniversary, we look back at our campaign highlights and ahead at our future plans to keep the pressure on Government to scrap prescription charges for all long-term conditions.
22,281 voices strong
The lead-up to the anniversary has seen thousands of supporters rally behind the campaign. Our petition, launched in February, was 22,281 voices strong, and we have been overwhelmed by the response from supporters who let us know how much the campaign has meant to them.
On 5 June, campaigners from Parkinson’s UK, Motor Neurone Disease Association Asthma UK, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society and Crohn's and Colitis UK, headed to 10 Downing Street to deliver the petition.
A false economy
As so many people tell us, prescription charges are a barrier to accessing medicine. Last summer, a third of survey respondents reported that they have skipped or reduced doses due to cost. By ending charges for people with long-term conditions, the NHS would see a reduction in GP visits, emergency hospital admissions and inpatient days.
In May, new research by the Prescription Charges Coalition, carried out by the York Economics Health Consortium (YEHC) confirmed what many of us had suspected for quite some time: scrapping prescription charges for people with long-term conditions could save the NHS money. The research shows savings of more than £20 million per year for just two conditions, Parkinson’s and inflammatory bowel disease. It shows that prescription charges for long-term conditions are in fact a false economy, costing the NHS more than the revenue they bring in.
We launched the report in Parliament on 23 May and with the help of our supporters (2,000 of you contacted more than 500 MPs to ask them to meet with us!), we met with 40 cross-party MPs on the day who were interested to hear about the potential savings to the NHS an updated exemption list could bring.
The Medical Exemption List is arbitrary and remains grossly out of date. Armed with the new research and thousands of passionate supporters we have plans to keep this issue firmly on the public agenda. Make sure you sign up to our mailing list to stay informed!
I was born in 1968 and so was the medical exemption list. This list decides who pays prescription charges and who doesn’t, but I didn’t have a say in getting Parkinson’s.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s aged 9, though I’ve had the symptoms since I was 7. Fortunately for me I had a working tax credit exemption until recently, which meant I didn’t have to pay for the more than 200,000 tablets I’ve taken in my lifetime.
Since losing that exemption I’ve had to ration my medication to spread the cost, prioritising the most urgent ones and leaving others for later. I now pay monthly through the prepayment scheme. It’s stressful because I can’t live without my drugs. I’ve been on levodopa for so long that my body couldn’t cope without it.
I’ve had to start counting the pennies more and more. I resent paying it as it could still cost me thousands throughout my life and there is nothing I can do about it! I’ve worked for as long as possible and paid my national insurance contributions, so it’s galling to think that I’m being treated differently to other people whose long-term conditions are exempt.
Last summer I shared my story as part of the Prescription Charges Coalition launch of their report Still Paying the Price which found that among those like myself currently paying for prescriptions, a third had not collected medications due to the cost. Others reported skipping or reducing their doses to save money – leading to worsening health, time off work and emergency hospital admissions.
New research published just last week by the York Health Economics Consortium now shows that for people with Parkinson’s (and inflammatory bowel disease), charging for prescriptions is a false economy to the NHS. By removing prescription charges, people like me are better able to stay well and avoid health complications- which would mean fewer GP visits and emergency hospital admissions. For each working age person with Parkinson’s the NHS would save £93 per year by scrapping prescription charges.
Next week the medical exemption list will be 50 years old- but I won’t be celebrating. It is time to change this unfair and outdated system. Add your voice by signing up to the Thunderclap.
Matt Eagles @MattEagles
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