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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 23:00 GMT
'Scrap cancer prescription charges'
Sharon Dobson, a mother-of-three from Somerset, wrote to the BBC News website about having to pay for prescriptions for treatment for her incurable cancer.

Sharon Dobson
Sharon Dobson wants a review of prescription charging policy
"You would think because it's a terminal illness it would have been on the NHS," she said.

"There are many other illnesses which people suffer from who can claim free prescriptions, so why not cancer victims?"

We sent our reporter Jenny Matthews to investigate. If you have any other story ideas - send them to the BBC using the form at the bottom of the page.

"Bitter, I think, is how I feel."

After several years fighting breast cancer Sharon Dobson, a busy 35-year-old mother of three young boys from Nunney in Somerset, is still reeling after being diagnosed with secondary bone cancer.

She was shocked to be told the condition, although controllable, is not curable.

Some of Sharon Dobson's medicines
Hormone therapy injections (every four weeks)
Bone-strengthening tablets (every four weeks)
Painkilling patch (every 15 days)
Painkilling tablets (every six weeks)
Each prescription: 6.50
Discount vouchers (Prescription Pre-Payment Certificates), for anyone needing more then 14 prescriptions a year, cost 93.20 a year

She then found out she would have to pay prescription charges for many of the medicines needed to control the illness.

"When they said you have to have this, this, this and this I thought there's bound to be some help out there, I've got a terminal illness, I'll get help. But there just doesn't seem to be anything available.

"I think it's cruel. It's a terminal illness. I think there should be more out there for people like me."

Mrs Dobson works part-time and her husband works full-time, so she does not qualify for free prescriptions on the basis of income.

She needs injections of hormone therapy to try to stop the disease spreading, bone tablets to help prevent fractures, a painkilling patch and other painkilling pills. Each prescription costs 6.50.

Although she could buy an annual prescription pre-payment certificate for 93.20, which would cover all her prescriptions, she is still furious about the whole principle of charging cancer patients for medicines.

Under current rules, dating back to 1968, people with some chronic illnesses such as diabetes and epilepsy do not have to pay for prescriptions - but people with others, including cancer and multiple sclerosis, do.

Review call

Mrs Dobson thinks it is time for a review of the system.

George, Charlie and James l-r
Her sons George, Charlie and James cheer her up
"Secondary bone cancer is like diabetes - controllable but not curable. So why are they not the same?" she says.

The issue of prescription charges is a fairly hot topic at the moment.

Charity Breast Cancer Care recently launched a campaign urging free prescriptions for cancer patients and a review of the list of exempt conditions, saying no-one should have to pay prescription charges for what could be life-saving treatment.

Permanent fistulas (eg colostomy)
Forms of hypoadrenalism
Myasthenia gravis
Myxoedema (underactive thyroid)
Epilepsy needing continuous anti-convulsive therapy
Permanent physical disabilities meaning person cannot leave house unaided
Exemptions drawn up in 1968; last reviewed 1998
In Wales, politicians have reduced all prescription charges to 4 and plan to scrap them completely by 2007. The Scottish Parliament recently decided against scrapping prescription charges, but is looking again at the rules on exemptions.

The Department of Health said there were no plans at present for a review of prescription charges, but did note that the Health Select Committee was looking at the issue as part of a broader inquiry into NHS charges.

A spokeswoman said some people on low incomes, children, pregnant women and the over 60s all received free prescriptions.

"In England our policy is to use the finite resources of the NHS to give priority to helping people who may have difficulty in paying charges, rather than extending the exemption arrangements," she said.

Getting on with it

In the meantime, Mrs Dobson is trying to come to terms with her illness.

England, Scotland, Northern Ireland: 6.50
Wales: 4 (to be scrapped by 2007)
Scottish Executive reviewing prescription charging system
Health Select Committee reviewing charges across the NHS

"I do have my moments - right now I could probably cry - but I try not to cry in front of the children, and I don't think I've cried for probably a week now."

She says her sons - six-year-old twins George and James, and three-year-old Charlie - cheer her up greatly, while she has "very supportive" friends and family and a "brilliant" husband.

"I just feel that I need to keep on going, otherwise if I don't I'll just dwell on it and I don't want to do that," she says.

Do you have any pictures that could make a story? If so, you can send them to yourpics@bbc.co.uk or MMS them to 07725 100 100.

Your views

I, too, have a terminal illness and have to pay for my prescriptions; I buy an annual prescription prepayment certificate for 93.00 which works out very cost effectively and it covers every single drug prescription in that 12 month period. I have lived in the USA for part of my life and was astounded with the prescription charges there. The cost of an NHS prescription certificate is peanuts by comparison. Ask any American how they would feel about getting all the prescription drugs they need for a single payment of $160 and they would be desperate to make the deal!
Alexandra, Manchester, UK

Whilst I think it's awful that this lady has to pay for her medication, there are many, many thousands of people in the same situation. I have medications for chronic asthma and for severe allergic reactions, all that cost me a fortune, but also keep me alive. I don't believe you could ever reform the system as there would always be someone who felt it unfair that they don't get free prescriptions. The NHS is so underfunded and free prescriptions would just cost the NHS millions that they haven't got.
Lisa Morse, North Somerset

My wife died last year of cancer. She could afford to and paid the annual prescription charge which amounted to less than 2.00 per week. The value of her NHS treatment for the duration of the disease was well in excess of five figures. Surely if you can afford to pay the prescription charge it is a small token to pay. If you cannot afford to pay it there are plenty of exclusions.
Richard Simon, London

I think it's terrible that this lady has to pay for her prescriptions. The current system is totally outdated. I have asthma which is a chronic condition although not seriously disabling, I have friends who have very serious asthma and frequently need hospital treatment. They don't get free prescriptions either, but without their inhalers and steroids they would die! The NHS hasn't reviewed this rule as they know that a lot of people out there would be exempt and it would cost millions of pounds putting more burden on our under funded health service.
Diane Graham, Wirral, UK

A friend of mine suffered three separate bouts of cancer and at the last bout a Macmillan nurse suggested she apply for Disability Living Allowance. She did, the nurse helped her with the forms and she was awarded the allowance - this may be worth looking at and may hopefully help towards this lady's prescription costs. Hope this helps.
Irene, Newcastle upon Tyne

I too agree that people with 'terminal' illnesses should not have to pay for their treatment. My friend, who has an incurable cancer, has to inject herself with drugs every day and I find it absolutely appalling that she has to pay for them.
Wendy Reddall, North Shields

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