Are Students Unfairly Excluded From Free Prescriptions?
September 18, 2012
By: Rhianna Campbell
It was a few days after my 19th birthday, and I went to pick up my prescription from the doctors. Handing the prescription to the pharmacist, I perused the store whilst I waited for her to prepare it, thinking about mundane things like what I was having for tea and how the price of that gateau I like from Tesco Express had gone up by an extortionate twenty pence!
Yeah, you read that right. Twenty pence.
Okay, okay, so I don’t really think it’s an extortionate amount, but as a student, I’m always skint. So I’d rather the extra twenty pence wasn’t there, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so guilty buying myself a cholesterol-clogging treat whilst in dire straits.
After confirming my address, the pharmacist handed me my prescription. I turned to walk away, but looking somewhat affronted, she said: “That’s £7.65, please.”
She explained that since I was now over 18, I had to pay for my prescriptions.
“But I’m in full time education,” I protested.
That didn’t matter, she informed me. I was 19 now, and apparently it was about time I shed the cotton wool I’d been wrapped up in for the past 18 years, and coughed up my much-needed cash for medication.
Not expecting a charge, I didn’t even have my purse. I had to trek back to my flat and grab my purse, before resignedly squelching back to the chemist’s in the pouring rain, cursing my badly chosen canvas footwear. (You’d think I’d have learned by now not to wear non-waterproof shoes in England).
Whilst £7.65 isn’t too much to pay once or twice, it all adds up for me and other students who have to get prescriptions once a month or more. I’m sensible with my money; I scout the aisles with anticipation for deals on food and toiletries, and unlike most students, I don’t buy alcohol unless it’s a special occasion. Yeah, you’re much more likely to find me curled up in my pyjamas, watching the IT Crowd with a mug of hot chocolate and belly full of Asda own-brand pasta than you are to find me in a club drinking the night away. I’m one of those types. Yet I still find that money gets tight, and the extra £91.80 (at least) per year would definitely help with the costs of student living. Last year, I had to pay £90 on exams alone, after the £45 I spent on books to revise for the exams in question. And then there’s obviously rent, internet bills, phone bills, travel costs…all essential, all money-draining.
Yes, like I said, £7.65 doesn’t seem like too much to pay, but to me, it seems grossly unfair that people eligible for income-based jobseeker’s allowance and income support are entitled to free prescriptions, but not students. If a person is on a low income, they receive government help for living costs. If a person is looking for a job, they receive financial assistance to help them find their feet. And so they should. But what is a student if not on low income? Why do students attend university if not to find jobs?
When asked why students don’t receive free prescriptions, the Department of Health explained that other forms of support, such as state-funded education and child benefit, end at 19. Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that was less of an explanation and more of a slap in the face. You’re not a child anymore, so there goes your child benefits, and you won’t get any benefits as an adult. Hah!
Prescription fees should not be cast under the umbrella of other student costs. Preliminary research says that 70% of students would avoid getting a prescription if it incurred costs. Seems like an odd thing to do, I know, but when you’re really hard-up, it’s easy to justify feeble excuses like “Oh, I’ll survive without it” or “Ah, I’ll wait a few weeks then ask my parents to get it.”. By which time, it could be too late. Ranveer Bassey, a Guardian online contributor, discovered that a current student had thought along the lines of the latter excuse and waited until he could go home to Wales. Unfortunately, his condition only got worse, ultimately prolonging his treatment and costing him more. Wow, way to kick a guy when he’s down.
There is one low income based financial help a student may be eligible for. You must apply for a HC2 form from the NHS Low Income Scheme, which involves filling out a hefty, daunting form full of questions such as how many breakfasts, lunches and dinners the student applying eats per week. (Well, that’s irrelevant anyway; we spend our cash buying food, hence why we need monetary assistance with prescriptions). When you’ve sent off the chunky document (after realising you’ve spent at least half an hour ticking boxes and explaining how much grub you eat per week), you still might not receive any help. It seems a luck-of-the-draw style scheme is in play, as some students say they’ve applied one year and received no help, then again the next year, in the exact same circumstances, and been offered assistance.
To those who oppose the idea of prescriptions being free for students, I urge you to think like the Welsh. Wales opted to make prescriptions free on the basis that penniless students were unlikely to shell out for their prescriptions, which in due course makes their conditions worse, and the cost incurred by just one extra GP consultation is £36-over 4 times the amount a prescription costs.
Another point to make is this; why are we entitled to discounts on things like clothes and DVDs, but not essential medication?
We’re not asking for a lot. We’re not asking for this to be lifelong. But whilst we try to get the qualifications necessary to get a job and contribute to the state, give us a helping hand?