This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the prescription charges exemption list. This list has remained largely unchanged since 1968, which campaigners say has resulted in people living with long-term conditions paying high amounts for necessary medication. This week we hear from campaigners and people, in their words, on these costs on why they believe these charges should be scrapped.
Unless you’ve seen your income erode to nothing, you probably wouldn’t get aerated about prescription charges. You might notice when you pop into your doctor’s surgery for a prescription, that the cost has gone up per item (currently £8.80 in England if you are interested). You might think about why some conditions get free prescriptions and others don’t but you probably don’t send much of your time worrying about it.
As my husband and I have recently found out, we are all one illness, condition or accident away from discovering all about prescriptions charge exemptions and the inequity present in the current list.
The list of medical conditions which are exempt from paying for prescriptions hasn’t changed since 10 June 1968. Cancer was subsequently added to the list in 2009 but that was the last change. Why is this a problem? I’m going to use my husband Mark’s long-term illness as an example. The first paper published on Mark’s condition was published in July 1968. This was a whole month after the list of prescription exemptions was drawn up. The list hasn’t kept up to date with medical progress or treatments.
Kennedy’s Disease is a rare disease of the motor neurones. Mark was once fit and active, with a professional career and interested in cycling, swimming and running. He started to limp and we all thought he needed some rest and a bit of physiotherapy. The limp became worse and he started to fall over. He went from using a stick, to crutches and now has a wheelchair to help him move around. His muscles are simply wasting away and his breathing muscles need to be supported by a machine at night.
Kennedy’s Disease is progressive and degenerative so things get worse over time. There is no treatment and no cure. So, no drugs. However, Mark does get frequent chest and throat infections, sometimes needing steroids and antibiotics.
Mark was ill health retired four years ago and I no longer teach. I am now his full-time carer. Our income has fallen off a cliff. We used our savings to adapt our house. We created a downstairs room and a wet room as he could no longer climb stairs. Having a long-term condition means additional expenses. We travel further for medical appointments to see consultants in specialist clinics. Heating and water bills are higher and costs are rising.
In addition to specific illnesses, there is one other category that enables a medical exemption from prescription charges. Anyone with a continuing physical disability which prevents them from going out alone, is exempt. In other words, someone in a wheelchair, or who is unable to go out without a carer, is eligible for free prescriptions.
We didn’t find out about this from any of the clinicians who had diagnosed or continued to support my husband, nor did we find out during his NHS wheelchair assessment. We found out from a member of staff at the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MND Association) * during an unrelated conversation two years ago.
Once we were told this we filled in a simple form, the GP signed it and sent it for processing. The onus is on the person living with the condition to find out whether they are exempt and to complete the form. We do feel that signposting is needed to highlight that this exemption is available. Anecdotally we are aware of people who are eligible for free prescriptions via this category but do not know about it.
And the real kicker – Mark has recently been diagnosed with diabetes as a consequence of his Kennedy’s Disease. His body effectively destroying the delicate insulin producing cells he needs. Diabetes is a condition exempt from prescription charges. He now qualifies for free prescriptions on two fronts. But me, as an asthmatic, and his carer, earning just £64.40 a week in Carer’s Allowance does not. A prescription charge of £8.80 for me is pretty much a whole day’s pay (£9.20). Now that’s a sobering thought.
*The Motor Neurone Disease Association (MND Association) support people with Kennedy’s Disease.
I started my own petition to get unpaid carers valued by government and society as a whole, six months ago. As a carer myself I was dismayed that carers issues went unnoticed, their voices went unheard and the sheer value of their work ignored by both government and society as a whole. I was determined to make carers voices heard.
The petition was a reaction to the government’s continued failure to publish the Carers Strategy it promised all unpaid carers back in 2016. On July 22nd my petition ended with 2,124 signatures. The map below shows the reach of the campaign across the UK as a whole.
Whilst the petition never reached the threshold required (10,000 signatures) to get a response from government it did apply pressure on two ministers and galvanised carers support organisations up and down the country to fight for carers rights. A national Carers Strategy would help to identify and support carers who are facing increasing cuts ro their services and are feeling more isolated and invisible.
Whilst my petition was the main thrust of my campaign, it quickly became clear to me that carers needed to campaign on their own issues. We Care Campaign was launched in April. Over the six months we have held a launch party and we have been mentioned in parliament. We had spoken to journalists, written articles in papers and online. We have appeared in carers magazines and been on radio programmes. We have enjoyed some craftivism (craft and activism) and we have used social media effectively. We hosted a twitter Q and A session during Carers Week for the Shadow Minister for Social Care and we have even identified carers who weren’t identified before.
Just before Carers Week, an annual event to highlight the work of carers, the Carers Action Plan was published. This was a set of 64 actions government had drawn together for carers. Whilst it was cross- department it failed to provide any financial support for carers and much has been left for the Social Care green paper in the autumn.
I was recently awarded a Jo Cox Foundation Scholarship to attend some specialist Campaigns training. This has given me the opportunity to see carers issues in a wider context and enthused me to carry on the fight for a better deal for Carers throughout the UK. Meeting so many other campaigners and hearing their stories was inspiring and I am looking forward to where We Care Campaign goes next.
You can follow us on twitter at @WeAreCarers and if you are a carer yourself, join our We Care Campaign Facebook Group Page for updates and how you can help support our grassroots movement.
The MND Association AGM was extra special for me this year as it makes a full year since I was nominated to be a trustee for the Association. I have now done a full round of Board Meetings, Committee meetings and project task group meetings.
Why go to the AGM?
The AGM is a place to meet up with old and new friends, other volunteers and staff from our MND community, together with exhibitors and speakers.
I find that there is always something new to learn, whether it is from another Branch or Group, or finding out about the research being done, or the equipment on offer. One big hit was the virtual reality headsets which Mark, my husband tried out. One was a general virtual reality demonstrating all of its features including being in a helicopter, in a hot air balloon and giving lots of different views and landscapes. He particularly enjoyed the car racing around the Le Mans circuit.
I attended a workshop around Legacy Fundraising which was one aspect of the Association’s work that I knew little about.
Even if you can’t attend to you can follow the event Live on Facebook and it is always nice hearing the messages read out from those back at home, watching the event unfold. Here’s the link to this year’s AGM and research speech. https://www.mndassociation.org/videos/
The afternoon speaker was Professor Martin Turner who was there to speak about his bio -marker research at Oxford. Something close to my heart. I have been part of that research, sitting in multiple scanners for many hours as a healthy control for Professor Turner’s research. I was very interested to hear how that particular research was going.
Huge thanks to the management and staff at the Botany Bay Hotel for raising the sum of £1000 for MNDA East Kent. This sum was raised from a football match, a quiz as well as counter collections
We would also like to thanks Shepherd Neame for their support and also for making the Botany Bay such a great place to visit and enjoy, especial thanks are due for accessibility to people with mobility problems.
Last but not least we thank all the customers of the Botany Bay Hotel whose generosity enabled this sum to be collected.
The picture below shows from left to right;
Clive Hudson – Chair MNDA East Kent, April Eames – Manager Botany Bay Hotel, Christine Smith – Guest, Lana Turner – Team Member and Steve Smith – Guest
On Sunday 1st July, MNDA East Kent entered a team in the KM Charity Group Dragon Boat Race. Our team was made up of members of the Lawrence family from Folkestone. The team were entered into three races, impressively winning two and coming second in the third race.
In our final race, we were pitched head to head with the team from MNDA Mid Kent, who were the fastest team on the day. It was a very close race, we managed to beat Mid Kent but due to their faster times in earlier races they went through to the finals. Congratulations to the team of MNDA Mid Kent!
Tom Harling ran the London Landmarks Half Marathon, raising £650 to be shared between the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) in East Kent and The Pilgrims Hospice.
In Tom’s words
“A good friend of mine, John Rawlins was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND)and this lead to him having to give up work around a year ago now. The disease is similar to the ‘Stephen Hawking thing’ and there is no cure.
John worked all his life on building sites as a digger driver from Westgate, and been a good friend of mine for the best part of 10 years. I ran the London Landmarks Half Marathon on 25th March 2018 to raise money to split 50/50 between the MNDA East Kent charity and The Pilgrims Hospice in memory of my friend John who was an absolute legend of a man who despite MND managed to keep his sense of humour and comical outlook on life.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and thanks for your donations and support.”
Some images of Tom on the run are shown below together with his certificate.