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Opinion

No one should have to ask whether they can 'do without' medication. But that's where we are as a country.

Disabled people are being disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis, writes Rachel Charlton-Dailey, and prescription charges aren't helping.

One in two pharmacists said they’ve seen an increase in patients asking which medicines on their prescription they can “do without” due to the cost. Image: jamiesrabbits/Flickr

Disabled people are being disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis. Research has already shown that those living with a disability or with someone who does are already struggling with the rising cost of energy, food and bills. But now, worryingly, some are having to make an awful decision when it comes to their health.

On Monday the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) released the results of a survey showing that the cost of living is having an impact on whether people with long-term conditions can afford prescription medicines in England.

One in two pharmacists said that in the last six months, they’ve seen an increase in patients asking them which medicines on their prescription they can “do without” due to the cost.

One in two pharmacists had also seen a rise in people not collecting their prescription, while two out of three pharmacists said they had experienced an increase in being asked if there was a cheaper, over-the-counter substitute for the medicine they had prescribed.

In January, HealthWatch reported from their survey that 10 per cent of people have avoided taking up one or more NHS prescriptions because of the cost, up from 6 per cent in October. Another 10 per cent avoided buying over-the-counter medication they normally rely on, up from 7 per cent.

In England, it currently costs £9.35 per prescribed medication, with a rise expected to happen in April, as it often does. For someone with long-term health conditions like me, a monthly supply of medication can be upwards of £50. Prescriptions are free for all people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

You can buy a Prescription Prepayment Certificate for £30.25 for three months or £108.10 for a yearly pass. However many are struggling so much at the moment that this is an expense they can’t afford.

There are some exemptions for those on means-tested benefits, those over 60, for children, new parents or if you qualify for medical exemption under a very limited criteria.

This includes if you have or have had cancer, a permanent fistula, diabetes, epilepsy, hypothyroidism or “a continuing physical disability that means you cannot go out without the help of another person”. 

I think it’s the last one that stings the most. Not only does it insinuate that disability is only valid if you can’t be independent, but there’s no quantifiable way of proving it. 

My medication eases my depression and anxiety, lessens the impact of menopause and endometriosis, stops debilitating migraine, controls my autoimmune disease, and generally means that I can live my life with minimum pain and flares. Without them, my life is severely impacted.

I count myself lucky that I can afford to pay for my prescriptions now, but I have gone without medication before when I couldn’t afford them — and that was when they were only £8 per item. In that instant, medication was a luxury I couldn’t afford and it was better to be bed-bound and be able to afford a food shop than get my medication and go without meals. Nobody should have to make that choice.  

Chair of the RPS in England Thorrun Govind said: “We are deeply concerned that people are having to make choices about their health based on their ability to pay. No one should have to make choices about rationing their medicines and no one should be faced with a financial barrier to getting the medicines they need.

“Prescription charges are an unfair tax on health which disadvantages working people on lower incomes who are already struggling with food and energy bills.”

Nobody should have to go without essential medication because they can’t afford them. It’s time the charge was abolished in England, as it already has for the rest of the UK, for the safety of people who need it most.

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