‘Make Asthma Medication Free’: Death Of 19-Year-Old Who Couldn’t Afford Inhaler Sparks Campaign

Three-quarters of people who pay for asthma prescriptions struggle with the cost.

As a 19-year-old waitress, Holly Worboys was on a low income and struggled to afford her asthma medication. The teenager, from Hertfordshire, used her inhaler sparingly to save money. She died in January 2016 from an asthma attack.

“As Holly only had one dose of medicine left in her inhaler, even as she struggled to breathe she didn’t want to take it, saying she’d save it for when she really needed it,” says Holly’s mum, Cathy, who helped Holly pay for medication when she could. “The horrific irony is that was the moment Holly really did need it.”

Within minutes of having her asthma attack, Holly fell unconscious and died before she got to hospital. “It is grossly unfair that people with asthma have to pay for medicine they need for their entire life just to stay alive,” says Cathy.

In light of stories like Holly’s, the charity Asthma UK is calling for prescriptions to be free for all patients, just as diabetes and epilepsy medication already is. Of the 2.3 million people in England with asthma who currently pay for prescriptions, more than three quarters (76%) say they struggle to afford them, according to the charity.

Holly Worboys, who died in 2016.
Cathy Worboys
Holly Worboys, who died in 2016.

Research conducted by the charity, which involved 9,000 asthma patients in England, found more than half (57%) of people who pay for their medication have skipped taking it because of the cost– an estimated 1.3 million people.

Of these, a quarter – an estimated 300,000 – said it led to an asthma attack, and more than one in 10 said they needed hospital treatment. Among those who struggled to pay for medication were workers on zero hours contracts, people in debt and those with no savings.

On average, asthma prescriptions cost more than £100 per year but in some areas, thousands of people may be paying more than £400 per year, the research suggests.

It’s worth noting though, that the NHS does offer prescription payment certificates (PPCs) for people who require regular prescriptions. You can buy a PPC online for £104 for 12 months or £29.10 for three months, which lets you get as many NHS prescriptions as you need for a set price.

But Cathy, who works as a personal assistant, believes Holly would still be alive today if prescription charges hadn’t discouraged her from taking her asthma medication regularly. “I don’t want anyone else to go through what we have,” she says. “If the cost of asthma medicine is preventing people from taking it, the government should do everything it can to help people stay well.”

Cathy Worboys and Holly's sister, Rosie.
Cathy Worboys
Cathy Worboys and Holly's sister, Rosie.

Asthma UK is urging people with asthma, and anyone else concerned about prescription charges, to join its ‘Stop Unfair Asthma Prescription Charges’ campaign and sign its petition to put pressure on the government to remove these charges for people.

“It is unfair that millions of people with asthma are getting a raw deal, paying unfair costs for their medicine just to stay well,” says Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK. “No one should have to pay to breathe.

“Asthma is a serious condition that kills three people every day in the UK and the best way for people to stay well is to take their life-saving medication, often for their entire life.”