Asthma UK’s recent report reveals the debilitating impact asthma prescription charges are having on people’s health and wellbeing. Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Policy and Research at Asthma UK explains more
Asthma is a serious condition that affects 1 in 12 adults, leaving them struggling to breathe and at risk of a life-threatening asthma attack. Every day, three people in the UK die from an asthma attack. The best way for people to stay well is to take their life-saving medication, often for their entire life, but Asthma UK’s new research shows there is a barrier preventing people from staying well and putting them at risk of a life-threatening asthma attack – the unfair cost of prescription charges.
Our report, ‘Paying to breathe: why unfair asthma prescription charges must be stopped’ includes research with over 9,000 people with asthma in England and the results are staggering. Three-quarters of people who have to pay for their asthma prescriptions have had to cut back their medication because of the cost. This is an estimated 1.3 million people in England who are putting their health at risk and exposing themselves to a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
Worse still, a quarter of those people who cut back on their medication told us that they had had an asthma attack as a result, and more than 1 in 10 needed emergency treatment. Unfair prescription charges could cost lives.
People with asthma have to take their medication every day to stay well. They need to take what’s called a ‘preventer’ inhaler every day to stop their airways getting inflamed and to prevent asthma attacks. They also need a ‘reliever’ inhaler to control symptoms if they get a sudden flare-up or if they are having an asthma attack. Many also need other prescriptions, such as allergy medication to prevent them from having an asthma attack or antibiotics to treat a chest infection.
But while people with other long-term conditions, such as diabetes and epilepsy (and those in the devolved nations) get their prescriptions free, people with asthma in England don’t because asthma is not included on the prescription charges exemption list. How is this fair?
Prescription charges can carry a hefty price tag. Our research shows that people with asthma spend on average over £100 every year to pay for their prescriptions, but some are having to fork out as much as £400. This is a significant expense for people with asthma and hits people hard, especially those on lower incomes. According to our research, the squeeze is real, with three-quarters of people with asthma who have to pay for their prescriptions saying that they struggle to afford them.
Asthma is a growing problem. The number of adults with a lifetime diagnosis of asthma in the UK is increasing and the UK death rate from asthma is among the worst in Europe. With the NHS being stretched to the limit, surely it is more important than ever that people with asthma are supported to manage their condition, including taking medication which we know can keep them out of hospital and, more importantly, save their life?
Every year, asthma costs the NHS £297 million in hospital admissions and GP appointments. If the government helps people to manage their asthma by removing barriers, such as prescription costs it would almost certainly help people avoid asthma attacks. This could reduce hospital admissions, A&E admissions and GP appointments, which are expensive for the NHS.
The exemption list was created over 50 years ago and has only been reviewed once. In 2008, the government promised to eliminate the charges for asthma and other long-term conditions, but this never happened. But now, with our new research showing how unfair prescription charges are putting people with asthma at risk of expensive and life-threatening hospital admissions, the time is right for the government to add asthma to the exemption list. That’s why Asthma UK is encouraging people to support the campaign by signing the petition and tweeting their support to stop unfair asthma prescription charges. No-one should pay to breathe. To find out more, visit: https://www.asthma.org.uk/prescriptioncharges.
Dr Samantha Walker
Director of Policy and Research
Tel: +44 (0)300 222 5800
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