A survey conducted by Asthma UK has found that more than half of patients with asthma skip their medication due to prescription costs.

According to the charity’s survey of 9000 patients, 50% of respondents said they did not pick up their medication because of prescription charges. Of those, 82% said their symptoms worsened as a result, and a quarter of them also said they had an asthma attack as a result, with 13% requiring hospital treatment.

About 4.5 million people in England have asthma and, of those, an estimated 2.3 million patients have to pay prescription charges, which are currently £8.60 per item.

But the findings come as the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) recently announced an increase in prescription charges from April, saying the rise to £9 per prescription will help the Government carry out previously announced funding pledges, such as the £10 billion by 2020–2021 from the Five Year Forward View for NHS frontline services, and the £22 billion NHS efficiency savings. The DHSC has frozen the cost of the prescription pre-payment certificates for another year.

The report said: “Asthma UK is calling on the Health Secretary to stop unfair prescription charges for people with asthma by adding asthma to the prescription charges exemptions list.”

The Asthma UK survey results revealed that 84% of asthma sufferers spend on average £100 annually on asthma medication, with 2% spending more than £400 a year. Of the young population, 86% of 16 to 29-year-old patients found it the hardest to keep up with the payments, while 92% of those on an income below £20,000, said they found it hard to afford their asthma prescriptions.

Shockingly, the survey found that, of those respondents earning under £20,000 a year, 54% said they had to cut back on their food bill to afford their prescriptions, and 76% of those that have to pay for their asthma prescriptions reported that they found it sometimes, or always, difficult to afford their asthma medication.

Of those who reported skipping their medication because of the cost, 73% of people were skipping their preventer inhaler.

Asthma UK Director of Research and Policy Dr Samantha Walker said: “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.”

The DHSC responded: “We are committed to ensuring people with long-term conditions get access to the treatment they need, including affordable prescriptions. There are a number of prescription charge exemptions in place to protect at-risk groups and around 90% of prescription items dispensed in local pharmacies are free on the NHS in England.”

Last reviewed 8 March 2019