Cancer patients still not benefitting from free prescriptions

In collaboration with the Press Association

The majority of cancer patients in England are still paying for prescriptions, even though they have been eligible for free prescriptions since April 1st 2009.

All people who are undergoing treatment for cancer, or for the effects of cancer treatment, are entitled to apply for free prescriptions.

In order to obtain exemption from charges, patients need to collect a form from their GP or cancer specialist, which is then sent to the NHS Business Services Authority and enables them to receive a five-year exemption certificate.

But new government figures have revealed that only 60,000 of the 150,000 people with cancer in England have done this, meaning that the majority are paying unnecessarily for their medicines.

There are fears that many GPs are simply unaware of the new rules and are therefore not advising patients of their entitlement to free prescriptions, or refusing to fill in forms for people who are in fact eligible.

Mike Hobday, head of campaigns and policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, commented: "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."

A spokesman for the British Medical Association told the BBC that many patients are simply too unwell to face form-filling.

Dr Richard Vautrey observed: "This is why we have always said England should have followed the lead of the rest of the UK and just lifted the charges altogether.

"Patients just cannot face filling out papers when they have cancer."

Health minister Phil Hope said that the Department of Health is "concerned" by the number of cancer patients who have not yet taken advantage of free prescriptions.

"That is why we need to continue to raise awareness amongst patients and to make sure that all GPs are offering this new entitlement to their cancer patients," he added.

Martin Ledwick, head of Cancer Research UK's information nurses, said: "It's disappointing if cancer patients are missing out on the free prescriptions they're now entitled to have. These prescriptions will help tens of thousands of people struggling with the heavy cost of having cancer.

"When the scheme was first announced, Cancer Research UK's information nurses received enquiries asking where to get application forms because GPs and hospital clinics weren't able to help. So it's extremely important that people know it's easy to apply.

"We urge doctors to try to ensure that cancer patients benefit from all available support. Pharmacists can also help by checking that patients picking up prescriptions for cancer drugs know their entitlements."