NHS prescription charge system ‘profoundly unfair’, says RPS

RPS criticises exemption criteria as survey finds healthcare professionals want reform.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has called for “wholesale reform” of the NHS prescription charge system in England after a survey found two-thirds of health professionals believe current exemption criteria should be widened.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has called for “wholesale reform” of the NHS prescription charge system in England after a survey found two-thirds of health professionals believe current exemption criteria should be widened.

RPS president Ash Soni described the current system as “profoundly unfair” and urged reform of the process in response to the
Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin survey
.

This found that 66% of 416 community pharmacists, GPs and nurses surveyed think NHS prescription charge exemptions in England should be extended to cover all chronic conditions. Just 36% believed the current criteria are appropriate and 17% want the charges scrapped altogether. In total, 88% agreed that NHS prescription charges deter some patients from requesting or “cashing” prescriptions.

“This survey shows a substantial majority of health professionals want reform of the prescription charging system in England,” Soni says.

“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 recently criticised plans for community pharmacists in England to check patient eligibility for free prescriptions by accessing a Department of Work and Pensions database.

The King’s Fund think tank has said reforming how patients pay for prescription charges could raise an additional £1bn a year for the NHS.

The RPS is a member of the Prescription Charges Coalition, an alliance of organisations calling for an end to prescription charges for people with long-term conditions in England.

Prescription charges were abolished in Wales in 2007 and in Scotland in 2011.

Last updated
Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 14 February 2015, Vol 294, No 7849;294(7849):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2015.20067795