Page last updated at 23:26 GMT, Tuesday, 12 August 2008 00:26 UK

Patients 'lack money for drugs'

By Michelle Roberts
Health reporter, BBC News

A single prescription charge is £7.10

Nearly half of cancer patients in England are being forced to cut back on food or heating in order to pay for their prescriptions, a poll suggests.

And almost two-thirds (59%) miss out on simple leisure activities, like family days out, to cope with their medication costs, says Macmillan Cancer Support.

Its online survey of 477 cancer patients found 44% were struggling to cope with drug costs.

The charity wants prescription charges abolished in England.

Prescription charges were scrapped in Wales in 2007 and will be phased out in Scotland by 2011.

Northern Ireland has frozen its charges while it considers whether to abolish prescription charges following a recent review.

People must never be forced to choose between food or medication
Ciarán Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support

In England, the government has ruled out any move towards free prescriptions.

Ministers are planning to launch a consultation in the near future, but this will only be looking at "cost-neutral" ways of tweaking the system, including who should be exempt from charges.

Financial struggle

The Macmillan poll found 44% of patients had cut back on essential items like food or heating to pay for the cost of their prescriptions.

At the moment, people over 60, children and those on low incomes do not have to pay the £7.10 per item price tag.

In all, 88% of prescription items are dispensed in the community free of charge.

Macmillan says cancer patients can spend hundreds of pounds each year paying for prescriptions.

Ciarán Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "People must never be forced to choose between food or medication. The Government must act now.

"Patients should be allowed to focus on getting better instead of worrying how they're going to find money for prescriptions."

People who do pay for their prescriptions can manage the cost by purchasing a three month or 12 month prescription prepayment certificate (PPC), which allows them to get all the prescription items they need for less than £2 a week.

Annual PPCs are available by monthly direct debit to help spread the cost of payments.

But Macmillan Cancer Support says too few patients are aware of this.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "Prescription charges are a valuable source of income for the NHS in England (they are expected to raise £435m in 2008-09).

"Entitlement to free prescriptions in England is based on the principle that those who can afford to contribute should do so, while those who are likely to have difficulty in paying should be protected. There are extensive exemption arrangements already in place.

"Those on a low income who are not automatically exempt can apply under the NHS Low Income Scheme. Further information is available on 0845 850 1166."

For further information on PPCs, People can ask their pharmacist or phone 0845 850 0030 .

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27 Feb 08 |  Health

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