One in ten patients have avoided taking up an NHS prescription because of cost, while the same number avoided buying over-the-counter medication they normally rely on, a recent survey has found.

The findings, from a tracker survey of 2,000 adults carried out by Healthwatch England, had worsened in December compared to October.

In December, some 10% said that they had avoided buying over-the-counter medication they normally rely on, up 3% from October. And 10% also avoided taking up one or more NHS prescriptions because of the cost – a rise by 4% since October.

Although NHS appointments are free at the point of use, 11% of adults had ‘avoided booking an NHS appointment because they couldn’t afford the associated costs’, Healthwatch warned, such as using the Internet or making a phone call. This was 4% higher than in October.

Meanwhile, (11%) had cut down on or stopped support from paid carers, also up 4% from October.

Almost four in ten patients (39%) said changes they had to make to meet the cost of living had a negative impact on their mental health, and 35% said their physical health had worsened over the past two months.

Healthwatch further warned that women were more likely to have had to make cutbacks than men, including 42% not turning the heating on when they usually would compared with 33% of men.

Women were also more likely to cut back spending on food and energy in general.

National Director of Healthwatch England Louise Ansari said: ‘It is clear that the impact of the cost of living crisis on people’s health and wellbeing is beginning to hit home.

‘We are very worried that people are increasingly avoiding getting prescription medicines, booking NHS appointments and travelling to their appointments because of the extra costs.

‘The steps people are taking to cope with the cost of living can have serious implications on their physical and mental health. This is likely to place a further burden on the already stretched NHS.’

In November, community pharmacist Ade Williams said that his team was considering subsidising the cost of prescriptions for patients who couldn't afford to pay.

'This is our social contract; we never let down or leave our communities behind', he wrote in a blog for The Pharmacist, but added: 'It just isn’t sustainable, and it isn’t good for the profession.

'I hope we're having conversations with the government to say, don't put pharmacy in this position.'

Fieldwork for the Healthwatch survey, which is representative of all England adults over 18, was undertaken between 19 to 25 October 2022 and between 5 and 9 December and was carried out online.

A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication, Pulse.