Patients' views on the UK policy of prescription charges—Insights from qualitative interviews

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Abstract

Background:

Some UK evidence exists, which suggests that the cost of prescription charges can pose a barrier to accessing medication. However, little evidence exists on patients' more general views on the policy of prescription charges.

Objectives:

The aim of this study was to explore the views of nonexempt patients, suffering from chronic conditions requiring regular medication, on the UK policy of prescription charges and how this could be improved.

Methods:

Patients aged between 18 and 59 years (ie, potentially paying charges) were approached through 6 General Practices in Northwest England. Thirty asthma, 8 coronary heart disease, and 23 hypertension patients were interviewed in depth.

Results:

Numerous interviewees were appreciative of the National Health Service, recognized its cost pressures and accepted paying toward medication in principle. A few though disagreed with charges on top of national insurance contributions. Many felt the level of the charge was too high. To protect population groups potentially vulnerable to issues of affordability, interviewees suggested that 2 principles should underpin any prescription charges policy: People on low incomes and essential medication treating chronic conditions should be exempt or subsidized. There was extensive discussion on the current grounds for medical exemption, which many viewed as not meeting these principles well or fairly, as well as the grounds for age-related exemptions.

Conclusions:

This study has highlighted a number of principles and options that should be considered by the UK Governments when reviewing the prescription charges policy. It puts these in context of the ongoing public consultations commissioned by UK Governments.

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