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September 2019

Call for urgent review of asthma prescription charges



Nine out of ten nurses in the UK responding to a survey by Asthma UK have called for ‘harmful’ prescription charges for asthma to be reviewed, and more than half say their patients had an asthma attack or needed emergency care because they skipped their medication.

Asthma UK, The Royal College of Nursing and The Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists are now calling for an urgent review of ‘outdated’ prescription charges.

A new report, ‘A Hidden Harm: why healthcare professionals want to stop unfair asthma prescription charges,’ includes findings from a survey of more than 600 nurses, along with 150 other healthcare professionals including doctors, pharmacists and paramedics.

The report claims people with asthma are at risk of life-threatening asthma attacks because they can’t afford their medication. 

Some nurses also said patients were borrowing inhalers from their friends, relatives or even their own children because they couldn’t afford to buy their own, putting them at risk of taking the wrong medication, or the wrong dose. One healthcare professional told Asthma UK that she had found the money herself to pay for her patient’s prescription because she was worried about them being unable to afford their medication.

The overwhelming majority of nurses surveyed (92%) want the prescription charges to be scrapped. 

Asthma UK says it is unfair that people with asthma have to pay for their prescriptions for life-saving medication, especially as people with other long-term conditions such as diabetes and epilepsy, and those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland get free prescriptions.

With asthma deaths on the rise and at their highest for more than a decade, the charity is urgently calling on the leaders of the main political parties in England to commit to a review of the ‘outdated’ prescription charges medical exemptions list. When the medical exemption list was created over 50 years ago, treatments and the understanding of asthma were limited and there were very few treatments available. Since then, developments in medication have significantly improved, meaning some people have to take multiple medicines to manage their symptoms and it is costing them more to stay well. 

Previous research from Asthma UK found that three quarters (76%) of people with asthma said they had struggled to afford their prescriptions. More than half (57%) of people with asthma who pay for their medication have skipped taking it because of the cost– an estimated 1.3 million people.

Respiratory nurse Bonnie Beard, who works in two GP surgeries in Essex and sees around 20 patients with asthma every week, commented: ‘The cost of asthma prescriptions can be harmful to patients as it can prevent them from managing their asthma and in some cases, this can put lives at risk. Most weeks, I speak to patients whose asthma has worsened or who have had asthma attacks, sometimes requiring emergency care because they have been unable to afford to take the medication that keeps them well.’

Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK and a qualified nurse, said: ‘It’s really worrying that nurses who are working so hard to help their patients stay well are seeing people with asthma suffer because of an outdated and unfair policy. It is high time the Government took action and urgently reviewed asthma prescription charges so that people with asthma aren’t put at risk of avoidable but potentially life-threatening asthma attacks.

‘No one should have to pay to breathe.’

Wendy Preston, Head of Nursing Practice at the Royal College of Nursing calls for asthma to have an ‘equity’ with other long-term conditions, and said: ‘It cannot be acceptable that some people are missing out on vital medication because they cannot afford it.

‘Nurses see the impact of this every day of the week and know what happens when people do not take their vital medication.

‘This will only make their condition worse and they will end up needing further treatment adding additional pressure the health and care system.’

Asthma UK is urging people with asthma, nurses and other healthcare professionals to join its Stop Unfair Asthma Prescription Charges campaign and sign its petition – at http://www.asthma.org.uk/prescriptioncharges – to end prescription charges.