Woman hospitalised after skipping medicine due to prescription cost

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Prescription charges in England will rise next month, and experts are concerned about what this could mean for Britons worried about their finances. A single item in England currently costs £9.35, with a three month prepayment certificate costing £30.25 and a 12 month certificate costing £108.10 – but, these prices will increase on April 1.

A bombshell survey of patients with long-term conditions has shown one in 10 already skip medications due to the cost.

This has led to almost a third of those asked developing secondary health issues, and over half taking sick days.

The Prescription Charges Coalition, which undertook the investigation, is now warning about the severe impacts of rising prescription charges.

One such example of this is Janet*, a 48-year-old key worker, who has been off work for four months after she was hospitalised when she couldn’t afford medication for Crohn’s.

Doctors have now told Janet this has led to her contracting Colitis, and not being able to work has also impacted her mental health.

The mum-of-two was reluctant to sign up for a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC), as she said she could not afford the upfront cost, and was worried it would not be cost-effective for her.

Due to the nature of Janet’s conditions, it means she has to “mix and match” her medication, and will sometimes only try a course of tablets for a few days before realising they don’t work and have to pay for another prescription.

Janet explained: “My medication was changing so often but, as a key worker, I don’t have a lot of money and it was becoming difficult. I also rent my house so at the end of the month I have no money. 

“It was a case that with the amount of medication I was on, I physically couldn’t afford to keep buying different medication to trial things as I was trying some that were making me worse. The doctor would then give me something else.

“It just got to the point where I physically couldn’t afford it as I’m spending so much money on the medications and the cost of living doesn’t help. 

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“I have just signed up for the certificate but you’re still having to find money constantly. Coming out of the hospital I had to spend £120 on medication.” 

After feeling very unwell, Janet initially ended up in Accident and Emergency (A&E), where she had an eight-hour wait to be seen.

She continued: “I had never been as ill as I was, and I ended up in hospital for a week. I didn’t take one of the medications and the doctors think it’s part and parcel of me not taking that. 

“I feel angry, it shouldn’t be like this and I feel it could have been avoided. You work out the cost for the hospital stay and what’s come off the back of it, it doesn’t make sense.

“It has had a big impact on my mental health. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. You realise that by being off work sick you are not doing your normal day. It’s so isolating and makes you feel so lonely. 

“You’re not speaking with people and not doing what you would normally do, you don’t realise it until you’re in that position of how much normal life you’re missing and how it affects you.” 

Others in Janet’s position are stopping taking medication, cutting tablets in half, or prioritising picking up certain prescriptions only, according to the group.

The Coalition has said the average cost to an NHS surgery for a nine-minute GP appointment is £42.00.

An outpatient appointment costs the NHS approximately £235, while the average cost for a person attending A&E in 2021/22 can range from £77 to £359.

The average excess bed day in the NHS costs between £2,089 and £2,532 a week for non-elective and elective inpatients, according to Age UK.

The coalition says that while these costs may not all be current, they “clearly outweigh” the burden of prescription charges.

Laura Cockram, chair of the Prescription Charges Coalition and head of policy and campaigns for Parkinson’s UK, said: “We are deeply concerned about these findings which is a clear message that the prescription charge exemption system needs urgent reform. 

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“It is not meeting the needs of people with long term conditions, and is putting their health at risk which we fear will intensify as the charges increase on April 1.

“The charges for people with long term health conditions fail those who are being forced to make tough choices every day about whether they feed their families, pay their bills or take their medication, which as we have seen from our survey could keep them out of hospital. We know the price rise will result in sick people relying more on NHS services that are already at breaking point.”

The Coalition is now calling for an independent review of the prescription exemption list urgently. It is also asking the UK Government to commit to freezing the charge for 2024 and fully commit to scrapping their plans to align the prescription charges with the state pension age.

Thorrun Govind, board chair for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, described prescription charges as an “unfair tax on the sick”.

She added: “Ongoing prescription charges in England prioritise revenue generation over the prevention of ill-health and undermine the principle of an NHS free at the point of use. Pharmacy teams often see people struggle to afford all the medicines they need, which can lead to further health problems and extra costs to the NHS. We need urgent reform of the whole system.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson told Express.co.uk: “Around 89 percent of prescriptions are free on the NHS in England. Patients with long-term conditions or on a low income can apply for a range of prescription charge exemptions or additional support through the NHS Low Income Scheme.

“Patients can also buy pre-payment certificates to cover all the prescription items they need for just over £2 per week.”

*name has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

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