Asthma sufferers in the UK are rationing how much of their medication they take because they cannot afford to pay National Health Service (NHS) prescription charges, The Guardian reports that this is according to a survey by Asthma UK which found an estimated 1.3m people with asthma in England do not take their medication regularly because of the cost involved. Sufferers who skip a dose risk having an asthma attack, needing a spell in hospital to undergo treatment or even dying, it warned.
The report says about 4.5m people in England have asthma. Of those, more than half – an estimated 2.3m patients – have to pay prescription charges, which are currently £8.60 per item. Three-quarters (76%) of them have trouble affording that, according to Asthma UK’s survey of more than 9,000 people with the disease. And almost six in 10 of those who pay – 1.3m people – said they had not taken medication when they should have in order to save money.
“Asthma is a serious condition that kills three people every day in the UK and the best way for people to stay well is to take their life-saving medication, often for their entire life,” Dr Samantha Walker, the charity’s director of research and policy is quoted in the report as saying. “When people are struggling financially they may feel they simply cannot afford to pay for the medication. By not taking it they are at risk of being hospitalised or even dying from an asthma attack.”
Many asthmatics use a preventer inhaler every day to reduce the risk of a flare-up and also carry a reliever inhaler in case they have trouble breathing in an attack. Some also need to take an anti-allergy medication or antibiotics for a chest infection. The report says asthma prescriptions typically cost £100 a year, but can be as much as £400, research suggests.
Asthma UK is urging ministers to add the disease to the list of conditions for which sufferers in England do not have to pay for their medication. “It is unfair that people with asthma have to pay for their prescriptions to stay alive, especially as people with other long-term conditions such as diabetes and epilepsy, and those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland get free prescriptions,” it says. Almost everyone earning less than £20,000 a year struggles to afford their asthma drugs, it said.
The report says people with diabetes, epilepsy, cancer and hyperthyroidism already get their medications free on the NHS. The last Labour government pledged to include asthma drugs on that list but did not.
The Department of Health and Social Care said in the report: “We are committed to ensuring people with long-term conditions get access to the treatment they need, including affordable prescriptions. There are a number of prescription charge exemptions in place to protect at-risk groups and around 90% of prescription items dispensed in local pharmacies are free on the NHS in England.”
It added that it had frozen the cost of the prescription pre-payment certificates for another year.The Guardian report