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prescriptionsFebruary 11 2015

A Drugs & Therapeutics Bulletin survey indicates the majority of primary care health professionals believe the prescription charge system in England needs revising.

Two thirds (66%) of survey respondents felt the current exemption criteria for prescription charges should be widened to include anyone with a long term condition, says the DTB. A similar proportion wants the charges lowered or abolished entirely.

The survey was sent out to 1,800 health professionals at the start of December. There was a 23% response rate with 175 pharmacists, 148 GPs and 93 nurses responding.

Just over a third, 36% agreed or strongly agreed that the current medical exemptions for NHS prescription charges are appropriate, compared to 61% which did not. Asked if the prescription charge deters some patients from requesting or ‘cashing’ prescriptions, 88% agreed (42% strongly agreed, and 46%agreed somewhat).  

The survey also found that 74% agreed that “NHS prescription charges make prescribers more likely to provide a longer prescription duration to patients who have to pay the fee.” And 84% agreed that “patients who pay NHS prescription charges are less likely to waste their medicines than those who don't pay.”

Asked for respondents’ personal opinions on whether prescription charges should be changed, 5% said they should be increased, 27% said they should be left as they are, 48% said they should be decreased, and 17% said they should be abolished.

When asked whether there should be a lower flat rate charge for all prescriptions with no exemptions, 63% agreed (39% strongly, 24% somewhat) and 36% disagreed (15% strongly, 21% somewhat). If prescription charges were to be abolished, 76% agreed that this would lead to increased demand for prescriptions.

Respondents were equivocal about whether administering NHS prescription charges takes too much of health professionals’ time, with 46% agreeing and 49% disagreeing.

An estimated 7 million people of working age in England have a long term condition, says the DTB. “England is the only one of the four UK countries to charge patients for prescription drugs. Age, income-based, and certain medical exemptions apply.

“But while some people with long term conditions, such as diabetes and cancer, don’t have to pay for their drugs, others with conditions, such as asthma and multiple sclerosis, do. And it is not clear on what grounds these decisions have been made.”

Ash Soni, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s President, commented: “This survey shows a substantial majority of health professionals want reform of the prescription charging system in England.

“Time and again GPs, pharmacists and nurses are faced with working people, unlucky enough to have a long-term medical condition, who can’t afford to collect their prescription because of cost. As a community pharmacist, I’ve seen many individuals in this terrible situation.  

“The system of who pays prescription charges and who doesn’t is profoundly unfair. No-one can doubt that the lottery of selective exemptions from the prescription charge, unaltered since 1968, needs wholesale reform.

“If people don’t get the medicines they need then they eventually become more unwell, which leads to greater government spending on health and support services in the long- term. This is at odds with the political imperative of a sustainable NHS.”

The RPS is part of the Prescription Charges Coalition, a group of over 30 charities and organisations campaigning to end unfair prescription charges for people with long term medical conditions.

Links:

DTB announcement    

DTB survey results    

RPS statement    

Prescription Charges Coalition    

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