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.
While this might not be a red-letter day in your diary, it highlights a grave injustice that has been going on for far too long.
What is the exemptions list? It’s a list of conditions that stop people who have them from having pay for their prescriptions. That may sound simple enough, but the list is woefully short and, since its creation in 1968, has only had one amendment, the addition of cancer. With so many people with long-term conditions – the Royal Pharmaceutical Society says around 15 million people in England have one – it’s a scandal that only one has been added in 50 years.
Medical progress has made huge strides over the past five decades, but this list remains stuck in the past. For instance, someone diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in 1968 would not have expected to live into adulthood. Thankfully, they do now, but the list hasn’t been updated accordingly, leaving people to pay charges when they turn 18.
Parkinson’s UK co-chairs the Prescription Charges Coalition, which is calling on the Government to extend free prescriptions to everyone with a long-term condition in England. No diagnosis should put people out of pocket – not from our NHS – and it is appalling that so many people have to pay for the privilege of having a long-term condition they certainly didn’t ask for.
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On the face of it, exempting more people from paying prescription charges looks like yet another expense to an already stretched health service, but our evidence shows the contrary.
According to research funded by Parkinson’s UK and Crohn’s and Colitis UK, on behalf of the Prescription Charges Coalition, extending exemptions just to people with Parkinson’s and irritable bowel disease would save the NHS more than £20 million per year.
This is, in part, because a significant number of people don’t take their medication as prescribed because of the cost, making their condition worse and, in some cases, leading to hospital treatment. According to the coalition’s research last year, a third of people living with long-term conditions and currently paying prescription charges haven’t collected their prescriptions because of the cost. Exempting people with long-term conditions from a prescription charge would reduce emergency GP appointments and hospital admissions, as well as potentially expensive procedures.
On top of the financial case, it’s simply unfair; no one in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland pays for prescriptions. We cannot stand by while working age people with long-term conditions in England are penalised for their ill health. The time for change is now.