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RPS: Rise in patients asking pharmacists what meds they can ‘do without’

One in two pharmacists have recently seen a rise in patients asking which of their prescription medicines they can “do without”, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has revealed.

The RPS today (February 13) said that the cost of living crisis is impacting patients' access to prescription medicines, following a survey of 269 community pharmacist members it conducted in England between November 29 and December 5.

One in two respondents said they had “seen an increase in the last six months in patients asking them which medicines on their prescription they can 'do without' due to affordability issues”, it said.

Read more: £44m script charge overpayment in 2021/22 as over 1m lose out

Half had also seen a rise in people “not collecting their prescription”, while two-thirds reported an increase in patients asking if there a “cheaper over-the-counter substitute for the medicine they had been prescribed”, it added.

The RPS advised patients to ask their pharmacist or GP to review their medicines to “ensure they are appropriate and that [they] get the best out of them”.

It also said they can save money by asking their pharmacist if there is an “equivalent medicine costing less than the charge” that they can buy over the counter instead.


“Rationing medicines”


Chair of the RPS in England Thorrun Govind said the organisation is “deeply concerned that people are having to make choices about their health based on their ability to pay”. 

“No one should have to make choices about rationing their medicines and no one should be faced with a financial barrier to getting the medicines they need,” she added.

Read more: Cost of living: Pleas to scrap script charge as patients forced to reduce meds

A reduction in access to medicines leads to “poorer health, time off work and can result in admissions to hospital, the cost of which must be set against any income gained from prescription charges”, Ms Govind said.

“Prescription charges are an unfair tax on health which disadvantages working people on lower incomes who are already struggling with food and energy bills,” she added.


Abolish prescription charges


Ms Govind called for an urgent “overhaul” of the English system with the prescription charge “abolished for people with long-term conditions”.

This will “ensure it supports access to medicines for people with long-term conditions at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis”, she said.

It will also mean medicines are “free to access in England, just like they are in the rest of the UK”, she added, pointing out that prescriptions have been free for people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland “for many years”.

Read more: No hike in prescription charge for first time in 12 years, DH confirms

The RPS has long campaigned to remove prescription charges for those with long-term conditions in England because they “create a financial barrier” to patients receiving the medicines they need.

Although they are free for those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, prescriptions currently cost £9.35 per item in England – with an annual rise usually occurring in April.

However, prescription charges were frozen at £9.35 per item this April – marking the first time the government did not impose an annual increase in 12 years.

It comes after it was revealed last month that more than one million people in England paid more for NHS prescriptions than they needed to in 2021/22 – with a total script charge overpayment of £44m.

In October, a respiratory health charity also urged the government to stop charging patients in England for prescriptions, following data suggesting that the soaring cost of living is forcing some patients to cut back on medicines.


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