THOUSANDS of asthma sufferers are at risk of fatal attacks because of NHS prescription charges, expects have warned.
Asthmatics in the UK have to pay £9 every time they get a prescription, even though they’re free for people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
And now Asthma UK and the Royal College of Nursing are calling for an urgent review into the policy – which they have dubbed as “outdated” and “unfair”.
Figures estimate that around half of the 4.5million asthma patients in England have to pay for their prescriptions – which can cost up to £400 a year.
And the costs of prescriptions in England rose by 20p in April following a price hike by bosses.
Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK and a qualified nurse slammed the policy and said “no one should have to pay to breathe.”
She 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that nurses who are working so hard to help their patients stay well are seeing people with asthma suffer because of an outdated and unfair policy.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.”
Similarly, Wendy Preston, head of nursing practice at the Royal College of Nursing, warned of the risks of patients not taking their prescribed medications.
Shes said: “It cannot be acceptable that some people with long-term conditions are missing out on their 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.
“It is time that there is equity with other long-term conditions such as diabetes where prescription charges are exempt.”
Asthma UK revealed that 58 per cent of nurses in England have seen patients have an asthma attack or need emergency care because they’d skipped their medication.
Deaths on the rise
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 life-saving medication.
Previous research from Asthma UK found that 76 per cent of people with asthma said they had struggled to afford their prescriptions.
And 57 per cent of people with asthma who pay for their medication have skipped taking it because of the cost– an estimated 1.3 million people.
It comes as asthma deaths are on the rise – with four people a day being killed by the lung condition last year.
It cannot be acceptable that some people with long-term conditions are missing out on their vital medication because they cannot afford it
Wendy Preston, head of nursing practice at the Royal College of Nursing
Mum-of-three Cathy Worboys lost her 19-year-old daughter Holly to an asthma attack in 2016.
Holly was on a low income and struggled to pay for her asthma medication, so she rationed how much medicine she took, resulting in a fatal asthma attack.
Cathy says that her daughter would still be alive today if prescription charges hadn’t discouraged her from regularly taking her asthma medication.
More than nine in ten nurses in England say that the prescription charges exemption list should be reviewed – with Bonnie Beard, a respiratory nurse at two GP surgeries in Essex, being one of them.
Bonnie, who sees around 20 patients with asthma every week, said: “I know first-hand that 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.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
Asthma is a respiratory condition caused by inflammation of the breathing tubes that carry air to and from our lungs, and it currently affects over 5 million people across the UK.
According to the NHS, the main symptoms of asthma are:
- Wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing)
- A tight chest
Although the above symptoms can have a number of causes, they are likely signs of asthma if they happen regularly and keep coming back, are worse at night or early morning, or seem to be in response to an allergen.
The severity of the above symptoms can vary between different people.
When these symptoms suddenly worsen temporarily, it is known as an asthma attack.
Asthma attacks can be caused by allergens, such as animal fur or pollen, cold air, exercise, chest infections or other irritants – such as cigarette smoke.
Allergies and asthma often go together.
Asthma caused by an allergic reaction is known as ‘allergic asthma’.
“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.
“I want the best for my patients so it is frustrating that some of them become unwell because they can’t afford to pay for their prescriptions.
“It seems unfair they have to pay when those with other long-term life-threatening conditions such as diabetes are exempt.
“Some of my patients might need as many as five prescription items but they have to wait until they get paid before they can afford to get their medicine.
More on asthma
“Others are borrowing their child’s inhaler or one from a relative or friend which means they are taking medication which may not be right for them. This can put them at risk of having poorly controlled asthma.
“The Government needs to urgently review prescription charges for asthma patients – before more suffer or lives are lost by those who can’t afford to pay for medicine.”
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 to end prescription charges.
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