GPs are coming under increased pressure from cash-strapped primary care trusts to limit the length of prescriptions to 28 days.
It is usual for GPs to write prescriptions for 56 days for many people with chronic conditions on long-term medication. This helps keep prescription costs down for patients who have to pay the prescription charge.
However, in recent weeks, the Patients Association has received an increasing number of complaints from patients who have found that the length of their prescriptions has been cut to 28 days.
Patients Association trustee, Roswyn Hakesley-Brown said: “Along with the recent rise in prescription charges in England of 20p, this is a stealth tax on the sick, this means many patients who have long-term conditions and need multiple prescriptions, will have to pay more money and also pay more often for the vital medicines they need.
“Patients who are particularly frail are going to have the burden and inconvenience of going to their pharmacists more often to have their prescriptions filled. Not only does this issue affect patients but GPs will have to spend more time writing prescriptions.”
While the prescriptions charge in England has risen, it has been abolished in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Patients Association wants to see the recent rise reversed and for PCTs to stop limiting the length of prescriptions.
“At a time when many people are struggling to make ends meet, asking them to pay even more for prescriptions by reducing the length of time a prescription can last is unacceptable,” Ms Hakesley-Brown said.
“We are concerned that some patients may be put off going to their doctor in the first place or may take less of their medication to ration it so they don’t have to get as many prescriptions.”
Asthma patient Arnie, wrote on Asthma UK’s website: “When I was first diagnosed with asthma I would get three inhalers on one prescription that went down to two now I only get one item on one prescription.
“28-Day prescribing amounts to an increase in prescription charges by the back door. Not all patients who pay for their prescriptions can afford these extra payments which in turn can lead to poor compliance if you pay for your medication.”
Em, also an asthma patient, added: “I don’t have the money or time to take off work each month to get new ones! Yet if i have an attack I would need an ambulance and hospital treatment....what costs less?”
South Essex is one area that has recently asked GPs to cut prescriptions to 28 days, arguing that this reduces medicines wastage when drugs are discontinued or changed and the risk of accidental overdose.
Dr Robin Bell, clinical chair for NHS South West Essex, says the message for patients is that: "If your GP has prescribed 28 days worth of medicine, it is because they are sticking to our policy and think that this is suitable for you, your condition and the type of medication that you are being prescribed."
The Department of Health said that GPs were not obliged to follow PCTs’ instructions to limit length of prescription, if they thought a longer course was more appropriate. The DH also reminded GPs to advise patients in England who need several regular medication and are not exempt from the prescription charge that they can apply for a Prescriptions Prepayment Certificate, costing £104 a year, to limit costs.