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We’ve helped patients pay their prescription charge, says pharmacist


We’ve helped patients pay their prescription charge, says pharmacist

By Neil Trainis

Bristol-based community pharmacist Ade Williams has revealed he has helped patients pay their prescription charges when they have been unable to meet the cost.

Mr Williams, who was awarded an MBE last year for his services to the NHS, told BBC Radio Bristol that some patients feeling the rising cost-of-living squeeze who come to Bedminister Pharmacy, where he is the superintendent pharmacist, tell him they cannot pay for all the items on their prescription and go without their medication because they are "too dignified and would rather walk away" because they don’t want "charity".

Insisting he and his team want to do anything they can to prevent that happening, Mr Williams said: "I don’t want this to sound overly altruistic but it’s not unusual for us to help people with prescription charges.

"It’s the reality of life. You come into healthcare not wanting to be the person who is charging a levy for people to access their medicines.

“In the past, people might have been a few pounds short on one item but it’s not sustainable, it’s never been, but we’ve always been able to do this. As a team, we’re conscious that this is happening more and more. And it’s happening to people who are in a very undignified place.

“Many people in the past maybe never thought about the cost of a prescription at £9.35. And all of a sudden, for two items it’s £20. We’ve been looking at this and we’ve been saving money aside to try and help people do this, not because we’re trying to [set] a moral bar but it will break us to keep turning everybody away. At the same point, we know we can’t help everyone.”

Mr Williams, who said some patients mistakenly believe the prescription charge – which he described as an "NHS levy" – goes to pharmacists, said working-age people have not been able to pay for prescriptions and have gone without their medicine.

“We are seeing the impact of the cost of living on them. For many people who’ve had disposable income and incidental episodes of ill-health, they’ve been able to factor that in. Now, they just don’t have those buffers and now what they’re thinking is ‘I’m ok, do I really need this medication?’

“For us, in the past, we’ve always had ways to help people… but we look at people who are not collecting their prescription, they are not collecting their inhalers, they are not collecting their blood pressure medication.

“When they come in and you say ‘well, you’re three months behind,’ they’ll go ‘well, actually, I just couldn’t afford it. I’ll just take this one and maybe I’ll come back in four months. And those are the concerns.”

Mr Williams revealed there have been occasions when patients have presented him with their prescription before telling him they don’t have a bank card or any cash and some patients have come to his pharmacy having to choose whether to pay for their prescription or their shopping.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve had patients coming in to pick up prescriptions, for example, for their children for antibiotics or for themselves and they’re getting paracetamol or Calpol and they would say ‘well, you know, I’ll just get the kids’ medication. We’ve got to do the shopping after this and we just can’t afford to pick that prescription up.’

“And why this is worrying, and the research show this, is we have patients who have long-term problems, common problems, things like hypertension, asthma, they’ll go without their medication or decide to ration it. They’ll have it for six months of the year.

“And even though there are schemes that help to reduce the cost of this, like a direct debit or a pre-payment certificate, the issues are you need to have the money and secondly, many people live in trepidation of not being able to meet payment to the government, so they don’t want to commit to monthly payments.”

Insisting the NHS “has burdened community pharmacy with responsibility for the levy,” he added: “Even when there are other things like flu vaccines or things that are free, nobody wants to stand at a community pharmacy counter and think ‘oh, I can’t afford that.’ It’s dignity, it’s fairness and we know it affects people’s health and it’s helping to exacerbate health inequalities in our community.”

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