Paying the price: prescription charges

By Phil Reynolds, Policy and Public Affairs Officer, Crohn’s and Colitis UK

Picture the scene, after weeks of chronic debilitating symptoms and repeat visits to the doctor you finally get referred on to see a hospital specialist.

The day finally arrives and your consultant breaks the news that you have a chronic long-term condition. You’ll need regular medication for the rest of your life to try and control the symptoms. How much will all this cost? Impossible to know, but as of 1st April 2013, it’ll be £7.85 per prescription until you qualify for an age-related exemption in later life.

Each year, tens of thousands of people of working age, newly diagnosed with a long-term condition, find themselves in the exact same situation.

According to the government’s own figures, over 15 per cent of people aged 20-29 are diagnosed with at least one long-term condition, rising to 40 per cent of in those aged 50-59. This amounts to a very considerable number of people of working age, many of whom will have to pay the prescription charge.  Is it fair that they should be the subject of an additional health tax?

The Prescription Charges Coalition – a group of 20 leading charities and organisations – is calling on all political parties address this fundamental inequality by committing to delivering free prescriptions for people with long-term conditions, and dumping the unfair list of selective exemptions that was drawn up in 1968, and remains Department of Health policy to this day.

Our new report Paying the Price makes a powerful case for reform. We surveyed almost 4,000 people with long-term conditions not exempt from prescription charges and found of those who paid for their prescriptions, but did not have a Prescription Prepayment Certificate, 35 per cent had not collected medicine from the pharmacy because of the cost.

Among these respondents, 72 per cent reported that their health got worse as a result of failing to take medicine as prescribed, and among those reporting that they had not collected medicines from the pharmacy due to cost and that they felt their health got worse as a result, almost 40% had to go back to their doctor. Worse still, 10 per cent said that they ended up in hospital as a result of not taking their medication.

If you live in England, join us by emailing your MP to highlight the fundamental unfairness of the system and help deliver the reform that would be truly priceless for those with long-term conditions.