Spring is sprung and the grass is riz. And that’s not the only thing on the up at this time of year. Because the prescription charge in England has also, inevitably, climbed by 20p to £8.40 per item.
Personally, I really can’t wait until the charge breaks the £10 barrier. No, not because I want to make the NHS more money by taxing the sick. On the contrary, I want it to trigger complete reform of the prescription exemption system. Each rise – and there has been one just about every year for the last decade – is met with a pathetically small murmur of protest and incredulity. This quickly dies away until the next year. Then the cycle repeats, and nothing changes, because the hike seems insignificant and familiar.
So it will need something juicier for the media to gets its teeth into before a bigger fuss is generated – and the charge topping a tenner might just have sufficient symbolic clout. Then, perhaps, we’ll be able to move away from a mumbled consensus that the exemption system is unfair and illogical, and towards a very vocal demand for action.
I won’t rehash the numerous well-aired arguments about why the current system is bonkers. But I would add that, with each rise, those of us at the sharp end – that’s GPs and pharmacists – see the consequences. Patients asking which of their meds are most important, because they can’t afford them all. Patients asking for larger quantities of medicines, so they can get value for their money. And patients unhappy that their first-line antibiotic hasn’t sorted their urinary tract infection (UTI) and disgruntled that they’ve got to fork out for another.
All of these issues pile on the pressure and the dissatisfaction, which we have to soak up while the patients have to dig deeper into their pockets.
So roll on that £10 threshold, with the hope that it might prompt a revolt, a rejection of the current unholy mess and a revamped system charging, say, everyone a nominal amount. In the meantime, the Department of Health will continue to treat patients and professionals as compliant and non-complaining idiots. Which probably explains why each prescription rise occurs on April 1.