Half of cancer patients struggle to pay prescription charges

BBC News health reporter Michelle Roberts writes,

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.

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.

Sadly, Roberts doesn’t make it clear that it is the British government that controls health policy in England and Alan Johnson, health minister, has made it clear that abolition of prescription charges is not on offer. Perhaps if he was health minister in an English parliament he’d have a different outlook…

Macmillan Cancer Support thinks prescription charges are a tax on illness, as do many other charities in England.

And The Morning Star, which calls the charges “outdated and unjust“, reports that the labour movement is taking action:

Swindon Trades Union Council recently launched a campaign to abolish prescription charges, with a website at abolishprescriptioncharges.wordpress.com

Swindon TUC secretary Martin Wicks said: “The fact that people with life-threatening illnesses have to pay for their drugs is a national scandal. If patients receive chemotherapy in hospital, it is free. But, if it’s in tablet form, you pay.

“Moroever, there is usually a cocktail of drugs associated with chemotherapy, each of which is a separate prescription.

“This scandal underlines the need for the labour movement to step up the pressure on the government for the abolishing of prescription charges in all of the UK.”

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