Julie Elliott MP: Patients with a serious illness are being penalised


This month marks the 50th anniversary of the scrapping of prescription charges for people with chronic conditions such as cancer and diabetes.

The NHS had been founded by Labour two decades earlier, to look after the health of people from the cradle to the grave, and the introduction of exemptions was an important step forward.

However, modern medical advances mean the list is now out of date and it is now time for change.

Campaigners are calling for the exemption to be extended to people with conditions like Parkinson’s and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – and I am supporting their calls.

A Prescription Charges Coalition report recently found that one in three people with long-term conditions, who pay for their prescriptions, have not collected their medicines due to cost.

A great many patients also report missing doses to make their prescriptions last longer.

This is hardly surprising given that prescription charges have risen 26% since 2010 compared to a 10% increase in earnings.

When first introduced the charge was just a shilling – now it is £8.80.

Many of my constituents have expressed concerns over prescription costs.

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People with life-threatening illnesses such as asthma, lupus and heart disease all have to pay for their medication.

Those who have suffered a stroke also face prescription charges, as do people with skin problems, mental health issues and conditions including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and HIV.

It is just not right that people are being forced to choose between paying for things like food and bills or picking up the medication that they rely on.

Yes, costs can be cut with pre-payment certificates, but why should people with serious health issues be penalised just for falling ill.

It has been estimated that updating the exemption list to include Parkinson’s could save patients an average of £93 per year.

Those with IBD would save £180 a year.

This change would not, however, just benefit patients. It is estimated that exempting just these two conditions could save the NHS over £20m a year by reducing hospital admissions and GP visits.

It’s clear that exemptions for a wide range of chronic conditions would improve quality of life for many people here in Sunderland, as well as millions of people across England.

It would also save our NHS much needed cash. It is time for change.