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Prescription charges are keeping people with chronic conditions off work, new UK research finds

The inability of thousands of people to afford their regular prescription medication is leading to increased sick leave and poorer performance and productivity at work, and even trouble getting to work, new research from the has found.

The and Employment short report follows a survey of over 5,000 people with like asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, heart conditions, multiple sclerosis, depression, Parkinson’s, HIV, migraine and rheumatoid arthritis, The findings show that nearly 4 in 10 respondents reported that the cost of medication is prohibiting them from taking their medication as prescribed. Of these, three quarters reported that this has impacted on their ability to work in some way.

The Prescription Charges Coalition, of 30 charities and organisations, which represents millions of people with lifelong conditions, is campaigning to end these outdated, unfair and arbitrary charges. The very limited exemptions were drawn up in the late 1960s and leave most people with long-term conditions in England paying for essential medication throughout their working lives. Prescription charges have risen in 33 out of the last 34 years.

The Prescription Charges Coalition’s new report reveals that of those reporting that the cost of prescriptions was a barrier to them taking their medicine as prescribed:

  • Almost three quarters said they had to take time off work as a result. For more than half of these, this was six days or more.
  • Over half reported that their performance at work had suffered as a result. Other impacts included difficulty seeking work, travelling to work and motivating themselves to work, as a result of not taking their medication.
  • Prescription charges are detrimental to the working lives of people with long-term conditions at all income levels and of all ages. While those on the lowest incomes are most affected, the survey shows that there is also an impact for those on higher household incomes. Younger people are also more likely not to take their medication due to the cost.

The report’s findings add new evidence to the argument that these charges are preventing patients from taking their essential medicines and are contributing to economic hardship, emergency hospitalisation and increased absence from work, as well as quality of life and overall health outcomes.

To highlight the strength of public feeling, the Prescription Charges Coalition has today launched an e-petition calling on the Government to end these charges in England for everyone with a long-term condition.

David Barker, CEO of Crohn’s and Colitis UK, spokesperson for the Prescription Charges Coalition explains, “These new findings tell a heartbreaking story of people facing medicine-poverty because of the spiralling cost of their essential drugs. Many are risking their health, and their ability to work, by having to make the impossible decision between taking their much-needed medicines to enable them to remain in employment, or putting food on the table for their families. The Government needs to take action now to end this inequality.”

Vice-Chair of the RPS English Board Ash Soni said: “As a pharmacist, I’m often presented with a prescription and asked “which one of these can I do without?” because the person on the other side of the counter can’t pay for them all. I’m deeply concerned that some people have to make choices about essential medicines based on their ability to pay. It’s time to find a fairer way forward for people with long-term conditions.

Ashlee Scott, who lives in Plymouth and has Lupus, an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the body said: “I cannot always afford my prescriptions. When I do not take the correct medicine, my symptoms and condition get worse and I have to take time off work as a result, which I worry about. I am lucky to have an understanding boss or I might have lost my job by now. I have a lifelong, incurable illness which affects my day-to-day life. I find it very unfair that we have the added stress of trying to afford medicines in order to regain some small element of normality back into our lives.”

The Prescription Charges and Employment short report follows the original Paying the Price report (launched in March 2013), which found that people are struggling to pay for their prescriptions and are severely compromising their healthcare as a result of not collecting or taking medicines due to the cost.

For a copy of the survey results and the Prescription Charges and Employment report please visit www.prescriptionchargescoalition.org.uk.


Prescription Charges Coalition