Prescription charges are a barrier to keeping people well and in work, survey reveals

A survey of over 4,000 people with long-term conditions, including those with Parkinson’s, on prescription charges, has found the charge is a barrier to accessing medicine.

The findings come following the UK government's announcement that the prescription charge will rise on 1 April 2023.

The Prescription Charges Coalition, which brings together around 50 organisations and professional bodies to campaign to scrap prescription charges in England for people with long-term conditions, conducted the survey between February and March.

It found:

  • Nearly 1 in 10 people have skipped medication in the past year due to the cost of prescriptions. Of this group:
    • Almost a third (30%) of those who have missed medication now have other physical health problems in addition to their original health condition.
    • 37% now have other mental health problems in addition to their original health condition.
    • And over half (53%) have had to take time off work as a result of worsening health.
  • 12% of people who pay for their NHS prescription have cut medication in half to make it last longer.
  • Over a third (35%) of survey respondents reported they had the duration of their prescription changed, meaning they’re paying more frequently for their medicines.
  • Almost 2 in 5 (38%) people with long-term health conditions only learned about the prepayment certificate more than a year after their diagnosis.

The survey shows that people with long-term health conditions that cannot afford their medication are seeing an increase in GP visits, trips to accident and emergency (A&E), and hospital stays. Some survey respondents reported they had to stay in hospital for up to 6 weeks. Not being able to afford medicine has also led to mental health issues and increased time off work. 

Read the full prescription charges report (PDF, 282KB).

Review the prescription charge exemption list  

Some serious conditions, such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s and Colitis, motor neurone disease, cystic fibrosis, stroke and Parkinson's, are still not included on the exemptions list despite the need for medication to stay well and, in many cases, alive. 

England is the only UK country where people have to pay for their medicines.  

The Coalition argues that if patients skip their medication it leads to further health problems which cost the NHS significantly more. 

It has condemned the decision to raise the cost of prescription charges, sharing that the rise will result in sick people relying more on NHS services that are already at breaking point.

Laura Cockram, Chair of the Prescription Charges Coalition and Head of Policy and Campaigns for Parkinson’s UK, said: 

"We are deeply concerned about these findings which is a clear message that the prescription charge exemption system needs urgent reform. 

"It is not meeting the needs of people with long-term conditions and is putting their health at risk, which we fear will intensify as the charges increase on 1 April.

"The charges for people with long-term health conditions fail those who are being forced to make tough choices every day about whether they feed their families, pay their bills or take their medication. As we have seen from our survey, medication could keep them out of hospital.

"We know the price rise will result in sick people relying more on NHS services that are already at breaking point.

"Far from this government’s aim of improving life expectancy for people with stroke, dementia, asthma and mental ill health, this increase in the prescription charge will create a health emergency for people with these conditions and other long-term conditions in England. 

"The UK government must urgently commit to reviewing the prescription charges exemption list, or it will fail in its bid to create a healthier nation."

Government action is needed now

The Coalition is calling for the UK government to:

  • Commit to freezing the charge for 2024.
  • Recommend that prescribers stop reducing the duration of prescriptions, as this prices people out of affording their vital medicines.
  • Conducts an independent review of the prescription charge exemption list urgently. 
  • Scrap its plans to align prescription charges with the state pension age.
  • Make sure information about prescription charge entitlements (including the low income scheme and prescription prepayment certificates) is provided to everyone with long-term conditions when they're diagnosed with their condition. 

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