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Doctors call for free prescriptions – or more exemptions

Two-thirds of health professionals in England disagree with current system of charges

Louise Prime

Thursday, 05 February 2015

Nearly two-thirds of primary healthcare professionals support reform of the prescription charging system in England, found a survey commissioned for Drug & Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB), published today. The doctors, nurses and pharmacists want exemptions for anyone with a long-term condition, or for charges to be lowered or completely abolished.

Think Media Consultancy conducted the survey for DTB last December, among 1,800 GPs, nurses and community pharmacists in England; 23% of these health professionals responded. Overall, 70% of all respondents said they didn’t agree with the current charging system.

Most of them (88% overall, and 90% of GPs) said they thought that the current prescription charges in England put some patients off requesting their prescriptions, or taking them to the pharmacy. About three-quarters (74%) said that, because of the charges, prescribers are more likely to extend the prescription period for patients who aren’t exempt from paying.

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of respondents said they didn’t believe the current medical criteria for exemption from charges were appropriate, and even more (66%) said that people with any long-term condition should be exempt – which would apply to about 7 million people of working age in England.

A similar proportion (65%) called for prescription charges to be either reduced (48%) or completely abolished (17%). However, eight in ten respondents did feel that patients were less likely to waste their medicines of they had to pay for them, than if they got them free of charge.

One of the nurses polled blamed some patients’ poor control of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on their inability to afford all their prescribed inhalers, and a GP called for every patient with a chronic disease to be exempt, though under regular review.

The DTB’s deputy editor David Phizackerley said: “The survey has clearly highlighted the need for a major overhaul of NHS prescription charges. The current system is seen as a barrier that stops some people from requesting or receiving prescriptions.

“Exemption criteria for NHS prescription charges are illogical, outdated and unfair.”

DTB belongs to the Prescription Charges Coalition of 40 leading medical organisations and charities that is campaigning for all those with long-term conditions to be exempted from paying prescription charges. Coalition spokesperson, Jackie Glatter of the charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK, said: “These findings add further weight to a very strong case for reform of the criteria for medical exemption from the charges.

“Our research shows that the cost of prescriptions is significantly affecting people’s ability to manage their long-term condition effectively and to work. This is leading to worsening health, further cost to the NHS, and days off work. The criteria for medical exemption, set as long ago as 1968, are now strikingly outdated and highly inequitable. Reform, to include all long-term conditions, is well overdue.”

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