Yesterday I picked up a prescription from my local pharmacy. NHS prescription charges have risen again, now £8.05 per item. While I don't need regular prescriptions, it made me spare a thought for those people who do.
Prescriptions raise valuable resources for the NHS. But for people with long-term conditions who take several medicines every month, the cost can be prohibitively expensive. At present, England is the only part of the UK where patients pay for their prescriptions, unless they are exempt (see below). In Wales, Northern Island and Scotland, prescribed medicines are free for everyone.
The Prescription Charges Coalition (PCC) is campaigning for free NHS prescriptions for everyone of working age who has a long-term condition. The PCC, which has more than 30 member charities and organisations (including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society), has found that many people are having to choose between food, clothing, bills or prescriptions. Some patients are rationing their prescriptions, or stopping them completely, because they simply can't afford them. Yet prescription medicines are vital in preventing serious health problems associated with long-term conditions and ultimately in reducing extra costs to the NHS and society as a whole.
In a survey by the PCC on prescription charges and employment in March 2014, over a third of people reported that the cost of their medication had prevented them from taking it as prescribed, with significant numbers saying this had affected their ability to work.
So are you entitled to free NHS prescriptions?
Some people can get free NHS prescriptions because of their age, income or medical condition. Visit NHS Choices to find out if you are one of them.
Only certain medical conditions are covered. According to a report by the PCC in March 2013, this list is limited and not in keeping with the times. While people with insulin-controlled diabetes or an underactive thyroid are entitled to free prescriptions, those with asthma, high blood pressure, arthritis etc. still have to pay. The PCC's report (Paying the Price - Prescription Charges and People with Long-term Conditions) states:
'While some people are exempt from prescription charges on the basis of age, income and medical condition, the criteria for exemptions were set in 1968 and have remained largely unchanged since then. 45 years on, these criteria are now outdated, arbitrary and inequitable. Schemes to provide extra support with health costs, in particular the Prescription Prepayment Certificate and NHS Low Income Scheme are poorly publicised and difficult to access.'
The PCC is calling for people in England to email their MP, asking them to call for an end to prescription charges for those with long-term conditions. Visit the PCC's Take Action page to learn more.
So how can you minimise the cost?
The Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC) is intended to help people with long-term conditions, as long as they live in England. It is basically a season ticket for prescription medicines, for a period of either three months (£29.10) or 12 months (£104), covering all prescriptions during that period.
The PPC allows anyone to obtain all the prescriptions they need for £2 a week. However, it's only worth it if you require four or more prescription items over three months or 13 or more items over one year, and probably isn't worth it at all if your medical condition is unpredictable or fluctuating.
You can pay by 10 monthly direct debit instalments. Visit https://www.gov.uk/get-a-ppc to buy a PPC online, phone 0300 330 1341 or fill in the form FP95 (available from your pharmacy or GP surgery). Some pharmacies also sell PPCs direct.