A tax on chronic illness – prescription charges in England

Those of you who know me personally, or maybe just from the wonderful world of ‘online’, probably know that I suffer with a chronic condition called ‘ulcerative colitis’ – you can read my previous post about my condition here (I would strongly urge you to if you have not had chance to yet).

I’m new to it, and frankly, I’m pretty dismayed to learn that, because I work hard, I pay my taxes and NI, and because I don’t happen to live in any of the areas of the UK that have a devolved Government, that I am expected to pay for my prescriptions for the rest of my life. This isn’t an anti-benefits rant in any way whatsoever (whether income or disability related), it’s an anti-establishment rant. If other countries within the UK are able to provide free NHS prescriptions for all, then why can’t England? Why is working and paying Tax and NI seemingly made in to such a disincentive for those with a chronic condition?

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Recently, I wrote a letter to my MP, Hazel Blears, who in turn forwarded it on to Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

Dear Mrs Hazel Blears,

I write to you today as a former Labour party member, a current resident of your constituency in Salford, but more importantly in my capacity as someone who has been newly diagnosed with a chronic condition.

A little bit about me, tomorrow is my 28th birthday, I have a successful career in a Financial institution, two adorable cats, and love of all things musical theatre. Unfortunately, and very recently, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition which is classed as ‘rare’ and something of a disability depending on severity of symptoms – a condition without a cure. I am now facing a lifetime of prescription medication just to simply try and keep the symptoms in remission.

I recently wrote a post on my website explaining my diagnosis to the World, and with the hope of inspiring and informing people about the condition and those who had been newly diagnosed and who were doing that awful thing that we all do, and searching the Internet looking for information. The feedback that I have had has been massively positive, and I provide the link as below, I case you are interested in learning more about the condition and what I’ve been through so far with ulcerative colitis:

It being a chronic condition, and despite everything, I remain adamant that it isn’t going to change my life, and so have absolutely no plans to let it affect my working life. However, you can imagine my utter shock when I found that by choosing not to become another person claiming Welfare, that ulcerative colitis was NOT on the list of chronic conditions that the NHS provides exemptions from prescription charges from. I was absolutely flabbergasted – by taking this medication, I am actually trying to beat my symptoms in to remission and thus save the NHS money and resource by managing the condition myself, and the NHS appear to want to charge me every month for the rest of my working life for the privilege? As I mentioned, I turn 28 tomorrow – giving me around 40 years left at working age – at the current rate of £7.85 a month, over a life time it would appear that I am being penalised to the extent of £3,768 in prescription fees, which, as you know, will not be accurate as the levy goes up each April.

I wonder if it may be possible to reach out to you in your role of MP to see if this is something that you may be able to follow up on my behalf? Genuinely, I don’t want any hand-outs from the State, I am more than happy with my current lot, but having to pay a prescription charge each month for medication that I have no choice to take, and for the rest of my life, feels like a tax on my illness, and me managing it directly, and somewhat unfair. If I gave up and applied for disability or job-seekers, my costs would be covered, and it seems that I’ve been unfortunate enough to fall in to a gap in the system. That said, I have heard from several other people who refuse to let this illness stop them from working and enjoying life, so know that it is a silent burden on many pockets around the country.

My young nephew also suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, and I was even more shocked to see that this crippling illness isn’t covered either, and, whilst my sister is in receipt of assistance, and therefore doesn’t pay the charge, I think this is another example of just how ludicrous the current exemptions are when it comes to chronic illness.

I’d like to convey my huge sense of gratitude to you for reading this letter, and whilst I appreciate that ultimately it may be hard for my letter to have a direct effect, I strongly felt that I wanted to highlight this issue to you, and trust that you will appreciate the nature of my concerns.

With sincere best regards,
Gari Davies

Today, I received a response back, written from the Rt Hon Earl Howe PC (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Quality (Lords)). which basically said that, whilst the Government empathise with my situation that i) there are no plans to review the list of chronic illnesses at this time for which free prescriptions are universally made available (which was originally drawn up in 1968 – YES, 1968 – SO LONG AGO THAT MY MUM – “Hiya Mum” – WAS ONLY BORN IN 1968!!!!) and ii) whilst the system can be ‘unfair’ to some at the moment, it’s the case of pleasing the majority rather than the minority – the majority being those who do not currently pay for prescriptions owing to various exemptions.

In essence, what we appear to have is a health care system that freely acknowledges that those who do not work are often in that position because of illness, and also, that the Government does not see any forward value in even considering the notion that in order to maintain a steady, healthy, workforce that they need to also be looking after the people who are of working-age, and who are IN work at the moment, in order to keep skilled individuals within our economy to give a steady foundation from which to build back up on.

As I say, it genuinely isn’t an anti-benefits rant (nor a rant at those who are unfortunately too ill to work, who will always have my eternal support and backing), it’s a rant at the Government whose logic in this situation is flawed beyond belief. I’m absolutely all for pitching in, and am a socialist to the bitter end, but at the same time, there is massive inequality in our system at the moment, and in being diagnosed with the ‘wrong kind’ of chronic condition, it seems that I’m going to have to continue to pay for treatment that ALL people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the seeming majority of people in England, do not pay for.

To quote from the response that I received, “the vast majority of prescriptions dispensed in the community in England do not attract a charge”.

EXACTLY! You’re paying for the ‘vast majority’ and so what is stopping you making this assistance universally available to all? If it’s just the minority to go, then why not do it?!

Their ultimate solution in my case? To buy a PPC (which I have already done) – currently costing £104 per year, and usually rises annually in April.

It’s not a massive amount, and by direct debit it comes to £10 a month, pretty much – but it’s an amount, and that amount is tantamount to being a tax for having a chronic illness..

.. and THAT, is not right.

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About Gari

Thirty-Two year old northern lad; living out in the Peak District and rediscovering life after having had a brain tumour.

4 Responses

  1. @matthewpoll

    I can completely understand why you think it is unfair. Why should people in Scotland pay nothing, when you have to pay?It should also be the same for all chronic conditions. Who pays should be the same for everyone in the UK. This should be applied to university fees, too.

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