Fresh calls have been made for the list of conditions exempt from the prescription charge to be updated, following a new survey which found patients with long-term health conditions were skipping medication due to cost.

Those behind the survey said the situation was leading to secondary health conditions, more sick days and more pressure on the NHS.

In addition, they also warned prescribers should stop reducing the duration of prescriptions because of further concerns about cost.

The Prescription Charges Coalition, made up of 50 charities including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), has today revealed the findings of its survey of more than 4,000 patients with long-term conditions in England.

Results showed one in 10 respondents had skipped medications due to cost. Of those, 30% had developed an additional physical health condition and 37% had developed a mental health problem in addition to their original health condition.

And over half (53%) of those who missed medication due to cost had had to take time off work for worsening health.

Patients stopping their medication, cutting tablets in half or prioritising picking up certain prescriptions due to rising living costs also increased the cost to the NHS, with patients reporting hospital stays for as long as six weeks, increased visits to the GP and trips to A&E, said the coalition.

An A&E visit is estimated to cost the NHS anywhere between £77 to £359, while an outpatient appointment costs the NHS around £235 and a nine-minute GP appointment around £42, according to the Prescription Charges Coalition.

But the group said that increasing the list of conditions eligible for free prescriptions would keep more people well and out of hospital.

Thorrun Govind, England board chair for the RPS, said that ongoing prescription charges in England ‘prioritise revenue generation over the prevention of ill-health and undermine the principle of an NHS free at the point of use’.

‘This unfair tax on the sick means pharmacy teams often see people struggle to afford all the medicines they need, which can lead to further health problems and extra costs to the NHS. We need urgent reform of the whole system,’ she added.

Ms Govind has previously called for the NHS to scrap prescription charges in England altogether, as they are in the rest of the UK, which she said would be fairer for patients and allow pharmacists to focus on more clinical care.

The Prescription Charges Coalition is calling for the list of long-term conditions eligible for prescription charge exemptions to be updated for the first time since 1968, excepting the addition of cancer in 2009.

Many conditions which require patients to take regular medication are not on the list, including asthma, HIV, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s and Colitis, motor neurone disease, stroke and Parkinson's.

The coalition is calling for an urgent independent review of the list, for the prescription charge for 2024 to be frozen and plans to align prescription charges with the state pension age to be scrapped.

The charge was frozen in 2022 for the first time in twelve years, but is set to increase again on 1 April 2023.

In addition, the coalition has said prescribers should also stop reducing the duration of prescriptions, as this was pricing people out of affording their vital medications.

Around a third (35%) of patients that responded to the survey said they had had the duration of their prescription changed and were now paying more frequently for their medications.

Prescription cycles also have to take into account opportunities to review medication, reduce wastage, the shelf life of the drug and the safety consideration of storing large quantities of a particular drug in the home.

The coalition also called for information about prescription charge entitlements, like the low income scheme and prepayment certificates, to be displayed at all GP surgeries and pharmacies, and handed out when medicines are dispensed and reviewed.

According to the survey, almost two in five (38%) people with long term health conditions only learned about the prepayment certificate more than a year after their diagnosis.

Laura Cockram, chair of the Prescription Charges Coalition and head of policy and campaigns for Parkinson’s UK, said that the survey’s findings were ‘a clear message that the prescription charge exemption system needs urgent reform’.

She continued: ‘It is not meeting the needs of people with long-term conditions, and is putting their health at risk which we fear will intensify as the charges increase on April 1.

‘The charges for people with long-term health conditions fail those who are being forced to make tough choices every day about whether they feed their families, pay their bills or take their medication, which as we have seen from our survey could keep them out of hospital.

‘We know the price rise will result in sick people relying more on NHS services that are already at breaking point.

‘Far from this government’s aim of improving life expectancy for people with stroke, dementia, asthma and mental ill health, this increase in the prescription charge will create a health emergency for people with these conditions and other long-term conditions in England.

‘The UK Government must urgently commit to reviewing the prescription charges exemption list, or it will fail in its bid to create a healthier nation.’

A Department of  Health and Social Care spokesperson said:

'Around 89 per cent of prescriptions are free on the NHS in England.

'Patients with long-term conditions or on a low income can apply for a range of prescription charge exemptions or additional support through the NHS Low Income Scheme.

Patients can also buy pre-payment certificates to cover all the prescription items they need for just over £2 per week.'