The Prescription Charges Coalition* is putting pressure on the government to make patients with long-term medical conditions exempt from paying, after finding a "shocking lack of fairness" across the current system.

In its report, Paying the Price, which ministers have received this morning, the Coalition says it has found evidence of shocking inequalities that currently prevent people with long-term medical conditions from taking their medicines.

Its survey of 3,700 patients has revealed that 35% who pay for each prescription have not collected at least one due to the cost, with three quarters of these claiming their health got worse as a result, and 10% even ending up in hospital as a direct consequence. 

Twenty-nine percent of respondents who paid for prescriptions and did not have a Prescription Prepayment Certificate said they did not take their medicine as prescribed either occasionally or often, and over half of these blamed the expense as the main reason.

And a mere 14% said they had found out about Prescription Prepayment Certificates from their GP and 5% from their consultant, supporting the Coalition's argument that schemes to provide extra support with health costs "are poorly publicised and difficult to access". 

Furthermore, it notes that qualitative responses suggest prescription costs "are impacting detrimentally on respondents’ medical conditions and quality of life and are felt to be a significant burden in addition to their lifelong illness". 

Unequal system?

The Coalition also bemoans what it claims is an unlevel playing for medical exemptions across conditions and parts of the UK. Currently, some patients are exempt from prescription charges on the basis of age, income and medical condition, but the criteria for this was set back in 1968, and has remained largely unchanged since then, it argues. Not to mention the fact that prescription charges have now been scrapped entirely in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Coalition makes several recommendations which, it feels, would help redress the balance. For one, prescription charge exemptions should be extended to all those with long-term conditions. "A measured, cost-effective approach to implementation of this recommendation could be achieved through a staged reduction in the cost of the Prescription Prepayment Certificate until prescription charges for people with long-term conditions are phased out altogether", it says.

It also suggests three or six monthly prescribing for stable, long-term conditions, to help optimal management of these patients and reduce the cost on unnecessary appointments.

In addition, while patients with long-term conditions continue to pay prescription charges, awareness of entitlements available "should not be left to chance". As such,  information about exemptions, Prescription Prepayment Certificates and NHS Low Income Scheme "should be given routinely to people with long-term conditions at the point of diagnosis," it states.

* The Prescription Charges Coalition is a group of more than 20 organisations - including the British Heart Foundation and Multiple Sclerosis Society - campaigning to end unfair prescription charges for people with long-term medical conditions.