The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) is calling for all people with long-term conditions to get their medicines free of charge because the current system unfairly discriminates between patients and can cause financial hardship to those on low incomes who pay for their prescriptions.
RPS spokesperson Neal Patel said: “The way the prescription charges system operates at the moment in England is deeply unfair to people with long–term conditions.
"Some people with life-long illnesses such as asthma or multiple sclerosis have to pay the prescription charge when they collect their medicines, whilst others with different illnesses don’t have to. This is because there’s a list of illnesses that qualify you for free prescriptions and if your illness doesn’t match that list, you have to pay.
"This list was drawn up back in 1968. Some conditions, now treated extensively with medicines, were rarely diagnosed then and in the 45 years since many new conditions have been discovered.
As the list of exemptions from the charge has never been updated, we are left with an arbitrary division between people with long-term conditions who pay for their prescriptions and people who don’t, which is not based on any defensible medical criteria.
"This list effectively discriminates between people with equally serious conditions. Ultimately, if you don’t have an ‘approved illness’, you have to pay and if you are on a low income, this can cause real problems.
"Pharmacists tell us that patients often ask which medicines they can do without because of affordability – something which really must change.”
The RPS is a member of the Prescription Charges Coalition, an alliance of organisations concerned about the negative impact of prescription charges on people with long-term conditions. The Coalition has today (11 March) released a report, Paying the Price, which shows that patients are struggling to pay for their prescriptions and risking their health by rationing or not collecting their medicines because of cost.
Neal said: “This report surveyed almost 4,000 patients with long-term conditions and found that 35% who paid for their prescriptions had not collected medicine due to cost. This is totally unacceptable and leads to poorer health outcomes for the individual with resulting higher costs for both the NHS and society.
There should be no barriers between a patient and their life-saving medicine. We would like to see the exemption to the charge extended to all those with long-term conditions.”
Part of the Coalition’s activity is to ask patients and members to email their MP asking for a phasing out of prescription charges for people with long-term conditions. If you live in England and would like to write to your MP, a template letter which you can amend will be generated once you have clicked the link and entered some information.
The RPS also has a top 5 recession-busting tips document to help patients save money when buying medicines.
To read the full report click here.
Neal spoke to BBC West Midlands about prescription charges and Ailsa Bosworth, Chief Executive of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Association, gave her views as a patient and representative of the Prescription Charges Coalition: