As society changes and technology deepens our understanding of the natural world, some curious anachronisms have emerged in our current prescription charge system. Unchanged since 1968, it is in need of reform.
A broad political consensus exists that it is unfair as some long-term conditions qualify people for free prescriptions – like diabetes, for example – whilst others don’t – like schizophrenia.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore conducted an independent review in 2009. It recommended that people with long-term conditions should be exempt from prescription charges and outlined how this policy could be introduced.
Today, sadly, “there are no plans to change the existing list of medical conditions which provide eligibility to exemption from the prescription charge.”
I often write about mental health and for good reason – it is an increasing problem. Mental illnesses are one of the main burdens of disease worldwide. In the UK, they are responsible for the largest burden of disease – 28%, compared to 16% each for cancer and heart disease.
While mental ill-health accounts for 28% of the total burden of disease, it gets just 13% of the NHS’s budget. Yet it seems to me that the brain as a ‘physical’ organ can misfire like any other physical organ.
Prescription charges also highlight the disparity between physical and mental health when, of the seven or so 1968 exemptions, all are for physical health conditions. Physical health conditions certainly present barriers to employment but it is telling that only 8% of people with schizophrenia are in employment.
Research from the Prescription Charges Coalition and Rethink has demonstrated that prescription charges deter people with long term conditions, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, from taking their medications. This results in worse health outcomes, additional treatment, unplanned hospital admissions, decreased productivity and increased reliance on benefits.
The 1968 short list of medical exemptions is largely unchanged, out-of-date and arbitrary. Amending this list would show that we are serious about treating ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ health conditions in the same way.
- Adam Afriyie is the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Ghana.
- He has a strong background in science, technology and innovation.
- He is currently Chairman of the Fintech APPG, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) and President of the Conservative Technology Forum (CTF).
- He was Shadow Minister for Science from 2007-2010 and has a background in the information services and technology sector.
- He is Patron of the Parliamentary Space Committee (PSC) and was Chair of the PSC between 2010 and 2015.