End prescription charges for asthma sufferers, charity urges

Asthma patients should not have to pay “unfair” prescription charges for the medication they need to stay alive, a leading charity has said.

More than three-quarters of people with asthma who pay for their prescriptions said they struggle to afford them, according to a new report by Asthma UK.

The charity is urging Health Secretary Matt Hancock to add the condition to the prescription charges exemptions list so sufferers “no longer have to pay to breathe”.

Prescriptions are free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while those in England with long-term conditions such as diabetes and epilepsy are entitled to a medical exemption certificate to also avoid the cost.

The Health Secretary has been urged to scrap the prescription charge for asthma patients (Yui Mok/ PA)
The Health Secretary has been urged to scrap prescription charges for asthma patients (Yui Mok/ PA)

Asthma UK said the charge, which applies to people with asthma in England of working age and in employment, is “outdated”.

“It is unfair that millions of people with asthma are getting a raw deal, paying unfair costs for their medicine just to stay well. No-one should have to pay to breathe,” said Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy.

“Asthma is a serious condition that kills three people every day in the UK and the best way for people to stay well is to take their life-saving medication, often for their entire life.

“When people are struggling financially they may feel they simply cannot afford to pay for the medication.

“By not taking it, they are at risk of being hospitalised or even dying from an asthma attack.”

Asthma UK surveyed 9,000 sufferers, almost 7,500 of whom paid for their prescription.

Three-quarters (76%) said they struggled sometimes or always to pay for their medication.

And more than half (57%) said they had skipped taking or been sparing with their medicines because of the cost.

Of this group, around a quarter (24%) said they had suffered an asthma attack after being sparing and 13% had needed emergency treatment.

Cathy Worboys, 49, from Hertfordshire, said her daughter Holly, who worked as a waitress and was on a low income, often found it difficult to pay for her asthma drugs.

Holly, 19, died after suffering an asthma attack (Asthma UK/ PA)
Holly Worboys, 19, died after suffering an asthma attack (Asthma UK/ PA)

The 19-year-old died in January 2016 after suffering a severe asthma attack.

“As Holly only had one dose of medicine left in her inhaler, even as she struggled to breathe she didn’t want to take it, saying she’d save it for when she really needed,” Ms Worboys said.

“The horrific irony is that was the moment Holly really did need it.

“Within minutes of having her asthma attack, Holly fell unconscious and died before she got to hospital.”

Asthma UK said the number of hospital admissions could be reduced if the charges were dropped in England, and has launched an online petition urging the Government to do so.

The UK death rate from asthma has increased 20% in the last five years and is among the worst in Europe, according to analysis published by the charity last year.