Martin Lewis offers advice on NHS prescriptions
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The pensioner, John*, has been entitled to free prescriptions since the age of 60, but received a shock email from his doctor informing him of a significant change. The 76-year-old was informed certain medicines he uses are now available over the counter, and would not be available via prescription any more.
When reaching out to his local pharmacist, John was told a nasal spray he had used for the last 20 years after having surgery, would now have to be paid for.
Similarly, he was warned tablets he takes for an oesophageal condition, described as a pre-cancerous syndrome, would also have to be purchased over the counter.
This is due to the fact it is classed as a medication for acid reflux and heartburn.
However, John argues the medication has prevented the progress of his condition, and he relies upon it.
He is now worried about the spiralling costs which could ensue as a result.
John explained: “I got an email from a doctor saying you can now buy your medication over the counter, so we are not prescribing it anymore and gave me a link to the conditions that were affected.
“If an over the counter remedy exists then it must be bought and paid for, even for those who qualify for free prescription.
“I contacted the pharmacist. I said what I want to know is, what will happen to me if I stop using the nasal spray? I wasn’t given an answer but was told I can buy it elsewhere in places like Asda or Tesco – where it might be a bit cheaper. But I have arthritis. I can’t be wandering around supermarkets.
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“The really frightening thing is if they make me pay for the esomeprazole tablets.
“They only sell the 20mg tablets over the counter but I need the 40mg tablets which need to be taken twice a day. It could get really expensive. It would be about £60 a month, so with the nasal spray it would be £70 a month, easily.
“I would just have to stop taking them and see what happened. It wouldn’t be pretty. It’s saving the NHS money, but making us pay.”
The Prescription Charges Coalition has raised concerns about the potential reduction of the over-the-counter medication the NHS will continue to pay more, after a consultation in 2018.
Laura Cockram, head of policy and campaigns at Parkinson’s UK and chair of the Prescription Charge Coalition, told Express.co.uk: “We raised huge concerns that this was likely to mean that the health of people who couldn’t afford these medications would decline – and unfortunately this shows it’s starting to happen.
“It is a huge concern that patients are being notified about these sudden changes in an email with no warning or time to budget.
“Now, coupled with the cost of living crisis and the recovery from COVID-19, it’s become more apparent than ever that this system does not work and people like John will be forced to stop their medication, making them unwell.
“We know this ultimately puts more pressure and cost on the NHS at a time when it is already struggling to deliver services.”
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For the meantime, John faces an anxious worry about the cost of the medicine he says he is reliant upon.
He added: “It’s wrong what’s happening. If people can’t afford their medicine and they are over 60, they should get it, no matter what.
“Surely the idea of free prescriptions is so that we don’t pay for the medicine we need, when we need it?
“This is a health threat that hasn’t quite sunk home with patients yet, but I fear it will lead to a widespread deterioration in general health.”
A Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson told Express.co.uk: “There has been no change in national guidance, it is up to clinicians to decide whether prescriptions for over-the-counter medications are clinically appropriate and based on the patient’s medical needs.
“We are taking action to help people with the cost of living, with a £900 Cost of Living Payment paid to those on means-tested benefits in the 2023/24 financial year, in addition to £300 and £150 payments for pensioners and disabled people respectively.”
*name has been changed, at request, to protect the individual’s identity.
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