12 September 2009
Two-thirds of cancer patients eligible for free prescriptions are still paying for their medication despite having exemption from charges since 1 April 2009.
Only a third of the 150,000 people eligible have applied for an exemption certificate which would allow them to collect their medication free of charge, according to the Department of Health.
Macmillan Cancer Support, who successfully campaigned to end charges for cancer patients, is concerned that many GPs are unaware of the new rules and that patients may be refused exemption because doctors aren’t linking their health problems to previous or current cancer treatment.
Guidance from the Department of Health states that GPs should give exemption to patients needing medication to treat cancer, or the effects of cancer or cancer treatment.
Helen from Kent, who has to take three drugs every day to ease the side effects of her bowel and womb cancer treatment, says:
'It was a real struggle to get an exemption form as the surgery didn’t know about them and then I had to wrangle with my GP to get it accepted. He’d decided I wasn’t eligible because I didn’t have cancer at the time and that the drugs weren’t for the cancer. Someone less vocal and more vulnerable than myself would have backed down and still be paying, or not taking much-needed drugs due to the high cost.'
To claim free prescriptions, patients must apply for an exemption certificate by collecting an application form from their GP surgery or oncology clinic. They must then get it countersigned by their GP or oncologist.
Mike Hobday, Head of Campaigns and Policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
'More than four months after the introduction of free prescriptions, it’s worrying that the overwhelming majority of cancer patients are still scrimping and saving to pay for their medication. We urge GPs and pharmacists to check people collecting medication for cancer are aware of their entitlement and call on the government to do more to ensure the guidance on exemption is clear.'
For more information visit macmillan.org.uk/prescriptions or dh.gov.uk/prescriptionchargesreview
***CASE STUDIES AVAILABLE***
For further information, please contact:
Rebecca Openshaw, Macmillan Cancer Support
020 7840 4699 (out of hours 07801 307068)
Notes to editors:
The Prime Minister announced that people undergoing treatment for cancer, the effects of cancer or the effects of cancer treatment should be exempt from prescription charges on 23rd September 2008 in a speech to the Labour Party Conference, Manchester.
Cancer patients can apply for a medical exemption certificate by asking their doctor for form FP92A. A GP, hospital or service doctor will need to countersign the form. The form will be sent to the NHS Business Services Authority (BSA) and an exemption certificate issued. The patient can then show their exemption certificate to the pharmacist as proof of exemption. The medical exemption certificate will last for 5 years, once the certificate has expired a new application can be made. The NHS BSA will send a reminder to the patient before the expiry date.
GPs should issue an exemption certificate to people needing medication to treat:
any diagnosed cancer (including drugs prescribed after curative treatment eg Tamoxifen and hormone replacement therapy and lymphoedema garments)
the effects of cancer (including palliative care and changes to mental health since a cancer diagnosis)
the effects of cancer treatment (including the effects of current treatment or previous treatment. They include the side-effects of cytotoxic drugs and the late effects of radiation).
To read the Department of Health’s guidance on prescription charges issued to GPs in January 2009, visit: www.dh.gov.uk/prescriptionchargesreview
The expected reduction in prescription charge income as a result of the exemption for cancer patients is estimated to be around £15m per year.
Cancer patients who are currently exempt from prescription charges because they are receiving a relevant benefit, for example income support, may wish to apply for a medical exemption certificate so they are covered if their financial circumstances change.
Nearly one in ten patients aged 55 or under who incur costs for prescription charges are unable to pay their prescriptions, according to Macmillan’s 2006 Patient Survey.
Nearly half (44 per cent) of cancer patients said they’ve had to cut back on essential items like food or heating to pay for the cost of a prescription, according to an online survey of477 cancer patients by Macmillan last year.
In his 23rd September 2008 speech the Prime Minister also announced that over the next few years patients with long-term conditions will also receive free prescriptions. Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians is undertaking a review of prescription charges for people with long-term conditions that will report to Ministers in Autumn 2009. The review will take into account the views of patients, the public, patient representative bodies, clinicians and healthcare organisations.
Prescription charges have been scrapped in Wales and are being phased out in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
About Macmillan Cancer Support:
Macmillan Cancer Support improves the lives of people affected by cancer, providing practical, medical, emotional and financial support. Working alongside people affected by cancer, Macmillan works to improve cancer care. One in three of us will get cancer. Two million of us are living with it. If you are affected by cancer Macmillan can help.
For more information about Macmillan Cancer Support, visit www.macmillan.org.uk or freephone 0800 500 800 for an information pack.