Asthma UK’s Neil Churchill argues that if the government are so keen to introduce tax cuts as stimulus, prescription charges should be first to go.
By Neil Churchill, chair of the Prescription Charges Coalition and chief executive of Asthma UK
The prospect of tax cuts is on the agenda as we approach the Budget. But if there is money to reignite that long lost feel-good factor and kick start growth by putting a bit of cash back in people pockets, how fairly will it be distributed?
One proposal would aid the squeezed middle who most need it: those with long-term conditions. The strain of recession doesn’t just make people feel bad, it makes them ill.
There are 15.4 million people in England with long term medical conditions and with dramatic increases to the cost of food, energy and transport, many are now struggling to afford their prescriptions and putting their health at risk by reducing or rationing their medicines.
An Asthma UK survey found that 34 per cent of people who pay for their prescriptions sometimes chose not to get some of their medicines because of the cost. Non-compliance with medication is a leading cause of avoidable and costly hospital admissions for asthma.
The prescription charges coalition is campaigning for a freeze on prescription charges until the next general election to make everyday medicines more affordable and keep people out of hospital.
This will benefit the huge numbers of patients whose medical conditions do not entitle them to free prescriptions, and who have been stung by rises in prescription charges every one of the last 15 years.
Research published by Rethink Mental Illness showed that 38 per cent of people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia have had to choose between paying household bills and paying prescription charges. People with long-term conditions are a significant voter population and many feel passionate about prescription charges.
This issue has been brewing for a while – surveys conducted as far back as 2009 show 37 per cent of people with asthma stated that the recession was making it harder for them to afford their prescriptions. However, the recent sharp increases in living costs could put more people at risk of being hospitalised unnecessarily for long-term conditions they have lived with and managed for many years.
It is quick and simple to support the e-petition and it could make a real difference. If it reaches 100,000 signatures, this issue will be debated in parliament. However, several thousand signatures would raise the profile of this issue enough for MPs to call the government to account in advance of the spring budget statement. That could mean a brighter outlook for the health of the nation and the economy.
The e-petition for a freeze on prescription charges can be found here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/25087.
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• Irish budget cuts praised by British Tories but criticised at home – Duncan Weldon, December 10th 2009
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