Prescription charges for long-term conditions are unfair and out-of-date

Thanks to ever-increasing prescription costs for the essential medication people with long-term conditions need to keep them well, or even alive, many are facing the stark choice between food, clothing, bills or their prescriptions.

Leo Watson is a member of the Prescription Charges Coalition

“The squeezed middle has never been so squeezed.”

Those were the words of Ed Miliband in his speech on living standards last month. With austerity beginning to bite owing to deep cuts, rising inflation and stagnant wages, the reality of this phrase has rarely been so apparent.

But for those of working age living with long-term conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, asthma or crohn’s disease, the squeeze is even tighter and more suffocating.

Thanks to ever-increasing prescription costs for the essential medication people with long-term conditions need to keep them well, or even alive, many are facing the stark choice between food, clothing, bills or their prescriptions.

This situation has been worsened further still this month with the price of a prescription being increased by 20p to an eye-watering £7.85 per item.

It may not sound like much but this cumulative cost soon stacks up and can easily amount to hundreds of extra pounds a year for people unfortunate enough to be diagnosed and living with a long-term condition.

These are people that already pay their national insurance contributions and now suddenly and unexpectedly need help from the NHS only to find that popular NHS mantras of ‘free at the point of delivery’, ‘available to all’ and ‘based on clinical need rather than ability to pay’ do not apply to them.

Prescription charges today are eight times higher, in real terms, than they were 30 years ago. The latest rise is up from £7.65 last year and is in keeping with a tradition that has seen charges rise every year since 1979.

With Labour having recently taken its first few steps towards its 2015 election manifesto through the publication and subsequent consultation on its Challenge Paper, ‘21st Century NHS and social care: Delivering integration’, now is an opportune moment to remind Labour of the argument for introducing free prescriptions for people with long-term conditions.

The Prescription Charges Coalition – a group of 20 leading charities and organisations – has today published a new report, Paying the Price, which makes a powerful case for reform.

We surveyed almost 4,000 people with long-term conditions who are not exempt from prescription charges, and found that of those who paid for their prescriptions but did not have a Prescription Prepayment Certificate (a pre-pay card which provides free prescriptions for an up-front charge of around £100 a year) 35 per cent had not collected a prescription medicine from the pharmacy because of the cost.

Among these respondents, 72 per cent reported their health deteriorated as a result of failing to take medicine as prescribed, and of these, 40 per cent were forced to go back to their doctor and ten per cent ended up in hospital.

The fact that some people have been admitted to hospital as a result of the current prescription charging regime should particularly worry policymakers, as unplanned hospital admissions are generally regarded as a sign of failure.

Long-term conditions are also a key source of health inequalities. The government’s own analysis shows that they disproportionately hit poorer members of society.

And not only do people with long-term conditions have a lower quality of life overall, but a regional analysis of long-term conditions shows that average quality of life scores are worse in poorer areas.

Ed Miliband made a speech on the future of the NHS to the RSA in 2011 in which he said, “it is essential to tackl[e] the gross health inequalities we still face in Britain”.

If the party is serious about taking action then this is one area that demands attention.

It goes without saying that introducing a manifesto pledge to give people with long-term conditions free prescriptions would be in keeping with Labour’s NHS heritage.

The introduction of prescription charges in 1952 actually resulted in the resignation of Aneurin Bevan and other ministers because of beliefs that it undermined the principle of the NHS being free at the point of delivery on the basis of need rather than ability to pay.

The coalition argues that 80 per cent of prescriptions are dispensed at no charge, as prescriptions are free for those who are under 16 and over 60, have certain medical conditions or are in receipt of benefits.

While this is welcomed, it still leaves another kind of ‘squeezed middle’, including students and new graduates, those saving for a deposit on their first house, people looking to start a family and even those sending their own children to university.

The last Labour government, under Gordon Brown, acknowledged the strong case for removing prescription charges for people with long-term conditions and indeed pledged to remove them in 2008.

Despite asking professor Sir Ian Gilmore to undertake a review on how to implement his pledge, and the fact Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all decided to abolish prescription charges, the policy was sadly never implemented in England.

With Labour now in the process of renewing its thinking on health policy. we have good reason to hope this situation will change under a future Labour government.

You can download Paying the Price at:

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24 Responses to “Prescription charges for long-term conditions are unfair and out-of-date”

  1. volcanopete

    This would save me over £100 a year or around £9-10 per month.Some of us may never reach the never ending rainbow of the state retirement age.68 is too late.

  2. LB

    You’ve left off the other bit of revisionism.

    Pravda ( BBC ) was going on this morning that the state pension is welfare.

    Wonder why?

    Ah yes, its going to be means tested.

  3. Newsbot9

    Yes, you keep up with the conspiracy theories. It’s welfare – it comes out the welfare budget. You have to try and attack pensions any way you can!

  4. Newsbot9

    I’d like to see a study looking at if people not being able to afford medication leads to higher costs via more NHS hospital visits.

  5. LB

    So why is it welfare?

    Ah yes, we don’t have to pay welfare.

    So no state pensions for the middle, working class and rich.

    Just for those welfare claimants. After a life on the dole, they need a comfortable retirement.

  6. Newsbot9

    No, that’s just how it’s set up in terms of departments in the UK. YOUR plan is not to pay them, stop trying to palm this off into everyone else.

    And keep pushing the myth of “welfare” == dole, the JSA is less than 3% of the welfare budget. YOU are demanding that pensions not be paid so your corporate welfare gravy train can roll on, fraud.

  7. LB

    And the left is pushing the state pensions = welfare.

    The reason is it can’t pay. So if it redefines the state pension as welfare, welfare is only paid to the needy, and then it can default to the working class, middle class and rich.

  8. Newsbot9

    Keep pushing your ultra-right myths.

    Pensions have been defined as welfare here for a long time. And welfare is not necessarily, of course, means-tested in the UK.

    YOU are seeking not to pay pensions, and to default. This has nothing to do with the left. Thief, your robbery is extending to victim blaming now. You have to make everything about your hysterical resistance to pensions.

  9. LB

    YOU are seeking not to pay pensions, and to default.


    Not the case. I want them paid.

    However, in the mejaah educated classes, they can’t understand the difference between wanting them paid, and the reality that they can’t be paid.

    It’s the state’s robbery to pay for the luxuries of mejaah studies that’s going to mean they can’t be paid.

    Now if you had studied a bit more mathematics or accountancy, you might realize this.

  10. Newsbot9

    That’s right, you’re lying again.

    Keep using your attack on anything apart from factory labourers. You keep up your myth that they “can’t” be paid, when you are trying to PREVENT them from being paid.

    Your grasp of cause and effect is crap. And I evidently have more of both than you, fraudster.

    Keep claiming that investing in education is an expense the state can’t afford…only true in your ideal world where the 99% slave in your factories. Keep doing all you can to distract from the topic at hand, by ranting against pensions as a concept.

  11. LB

    What’s the evidence?

    The fraudsters themselves.

    Go read it. It’s short.

    Take the pensions debt in 2005.

    Take the pensions debt in 2010.

    Take the first from the second and divide by 5.

    That’s the annual increase.

    Now come back and tell us who can pay that?

    Current taxation is 550 bn a year, it was far lower in 2005-10

    So just as you’re turning out the same sorts of graduates as McDonald’s university, I hardly think you’re qualified to pontificate when you’re students get jobs asking would you like fries with that.

  12. Newsbot9

    Your fraud is your fraud? Yes, that’s right. No need to read anything else.

    No, my students are going into a high-skill high-wage area of creative media. Which you’re trying to destroy.

    And the answer is “workers”, not thieves like you. Your crooked, lying accounting…

  13. LB

    They are going into McDonalds and Starbucks. Just like government accounts, no doubt you would classify serving coffee and newspapers as a high wage area of the media.

  14. LB


    look at your fraud.

    Yep you can get a high powered job if you study mejaah studies at Toxteth university for the reformed shop lifter. Sign here, take out all these debts and you will land a job running a national news paper.

    Then they end up serving big macs, with or without fries, and tens of thousands of pounds of debt. That debt having gone into your pocket.

  15. Michaela Sydney

    nhs exemption certs are still available for long term conditions and for tax credits and for low income … plus you can also pay for a pre paid cert 3 months for £29.10 and 12 months for £104

  16. Newsbot9

    Yes, you keep up the denial and keep calling for serving you coffee being the only job they’re allowed to do in your totalitarian word.

  17. Newsbot9

    Yes, you keep calling me a fraud to try and defect attention from your stealing. I’m not in newspapers, I’m in creative media (and a specific part of it, but I’m not about to give you a guide)

    You’re the one trying to destroy skilled jobs here, and to assign people poor jobs in your totalitarian world.

    The tuition fees your right forced through…whining about THAT now are we? And lol…keep on attacking the concept of university.

    Thanks for admitting you’re also an unreformed shoplifter.

  18. LB

    Please please tell us if you are working at Goldsmiths.

  19. Newsbot9

    Nope, I don’t work at Goldsmiths. That’ll be £29.99 for the information.

    Also, again, I am not in journalism. I’m in creative media, which is a totally different subject (especially in my specific area).

    Keep on attacking the concept of Universities for the 99%! Keep on not talking about your hatred for the NHS!

  20. LB

    Creative meejah – jurnalism – It’s all Micky Mouse degrees screwing the student over.

    Take all these loans out, and you’ll get a high powered job – at McDonalds or Starbucks.

    Meanwhile you’ve pocketed their money.

  21. Newsbot9

    That’s right, you keep talking up your plan to screw the students over, after forcing them into loans, to bar them from high-pay work. And keep trying to gloss over everything…”it’s all the same, it’s taught to the 99% – EVIIIILLL!!!”

    Keep saying that paying educators is evil too. Gotta have slaves educating your kids in your world.

  22. Mick

    There’s always help where possible, but mentioning that would spoil the Left’s bitchfest against David Cameron. I have asthma but would say the blamelies at the feet of PC morons who helped turn the NHS from streamlined emergency service to frivolous free-for-all.

    Google DEBATE POLITICS £20 BILLION IN NHS CUTS WILL DOCTORS BE SACKED OR THE USELESS. And just look at what needs to be cut away to get some priority back.

  23. Mick

    PS: What that should say is ‘I have asthma would need to pay again when working’. To blame asthma on PC clowns is laughable. Or is it…..?

    Heartburn can set it off and I’m sure many had it triggered under Labour!

  24. soppygit

    it’s ludicrous. It costs more to collect the prescription charge than it raises. This is something that the Scottish government have got right and Westminster should follow suit. The sums in question are trivia in relation to government spending.

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