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It's time to review prescription charges

May 16, 2017 3:46 PM

A message from The Prescription Charges Coalition, which is led by Parkinson's UK, Crohn's and Colitis UK, and National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society:


Aside from the prescription charge exemptions relating to age, pregnancy, income and other factors, there are exemptions for people who hold a valid medical exemption certificate. The list of conditions for which medical exemption certificates are issued has barely changed since 1968, and does not include most long-term conditions that are prevalent today.

As a result, under the current system the majority of working age people with long-term conditions still pay for the prescriptions they need to keep them alive and well. It is these people with long-term conditions that contribute the bulk of the £550 million that the Government receives in prescription charges revenue. The long-term (often lifelong) nature of their conditions means that they are disproportionately affected by prescription charges, whilst also facing extra costs associated with managing a long-term condition and battling with lower than average incomes due to the impact their condition has on their ability to work.

Research recently completed by the Prescription Charges Coalition found that of almost 6,200 people with long-term conditions surveyed, 30% have not collected prescription items due to the cost. Among respondents who said they sometimes failed to take their medications as prescribed, 57% had experienced negative health outcomes as a result, leading to absences from work and, in 33% of cases, additional GP or hospital appointments.

We therefore believe that the financial consequences for the NHS and wider economy of people not being able to afford their medication could be far greater than the £360-430 million (less than 0.5% of the NHS budget in 2015/16) it is estimated that free prescriptions for working-age people with long-term conditions would cost.

Next year the medical exemption criteria will be 50 years old, so now is the time to take action. A review of prescription charge exemptions is needed to ensure that we have a fair and sustainable system that supports people to stay well while avoiding further costs down the line.