This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the prescription charges exemption list. This list has remained largely unchanged since 1968, which campaigners say has resulted in people living with long-term conditions paying high amounts for necessary medication. This week we hear from campaigners and people, in their words, on these costs on why they believe these charges should be scrapped.
When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in October 2012, it felt like the ground had been taken out from under me: nothing can describe the feeling of being told your life will change, so significantly, forever.
I was living and working in England, so on top of getting to grips with what I thought of as my ‘new life’, I had to pay for the medication that was now central to my daily routine.
Within the first twelve months after diagnosis, I increased from one form of medication to three, automatically tripling the charges. As I was on sick leave from work, this was a worrying expense of about £26.00 every month, on top of the additional cost of any over-the-counter medicines I needed. A prepayment certificatewould have helped, but no one told me about it. I would occasionally skip taking tablets so I could stretch out the time before having to pay again, as sick pay doesn’t go very far. I found out the hard way that this is definitely not a good idea when you’re adjusting to a new medication regime. I tried missing just one tablet per day, thinking that would be manageable. I soon discovered, however, that this wasn’t possible because I was switching off, completely exhausted, before the end of the day – I was falling asleep just after tea. This wasn’t worth the cost saving, so I eventually made sure I stuck to the dosage and times. There were some months when finding the money to pay was a struggle, and I had to cut back at a time when my condition introduced a host of new expenses: for instance, I had to stop driving because it wasn’t safe, but the cost of a taxi often stopped me from leaving the house. A few times, I had to ask my dad to lend me money to make ends meet – I hated doing it, but that’s how desperate I was.
The year before I moved to Wales, I went there to visit my now husband, John. I had visited the GP just before the break and it turned out that I had a vitamin D deficiency and needed to go on tablets. My friend posted me the prescription from England, but I caused quite a stir in the local Welsh pharmacy when I handed it over: there was a lot of discussion and a couple of phone calls made before one of the staff members came over and apologised because I would have to pay for the tablets. Taken aback, I replied that I was expecting to pay – not knowing then that prescriptions in Wales are free – as I paid for medication all the time.
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I moved to Wales the following summer to live with John full-time – we got married last year. My medication intake has increased again and there are now ten items on my prescription list which, at £8.80 an item, would have costed me a walloping £88.00 a month if I was still living in England. I can’t do without all my meds; each one has a specific purpose, and my quality of life would be severely affected if I stopped or reduced my intake.
And yet if I still lived in England, I would be seriously considering reducing my tablets because the cost would be too great – even a prepayment certificate would be a stretch at times. But what about the cost to my health? Shouldn’t the NHS be worried about that, regardless of what side of the border I live on? Apparently not.
I am glad to be in Wales and not have to worry about the cost of stabilising my condition, but it chills me to think that my life would be so different if I lived just a few miles away. The NHS needs to fix this problem in England and extend free prescriptions to everyone with a long-term condition: the existing alternative is unfair, unjust and, frankly, frightening.