Don’t Make Me Fight for My Prescription

Marti Stelling (she/her) , Emily Sinclair

Editors Marti and Emily discuss the challenges of accessing prescription medication at university.

Marti: Writing my opinion about healthcare is a difficult one for me. I recognize my immense privilege in being able to access basic healthcare, which is more than a lot of people have. I also recognise the incredible work that healthcare professionals do, whether that be working at a pharmacy, working on the frontline answering calls, or performing life saving operations. However, people are being failed by how overrun the healthcare system is.  

Every month, ordering my repeat prescription is a stressful event, and it is consistently the same issues that arise. My time is split between my parent’s home address, and my university address, much like the majority of students. This means that when I am home for the holidays, I get my prescription sent to my local pharmacy. At university, which is where I live during term time, I use an app to order my prescription from my nearest pharmacy.

The problem that arises is the amount of time it takes to get this repeat prescription approved. I regularly notice that I am less than halfway through my prescription and put an order in for another, as I know that it is likely to take this long to process. Not knowing whether I am going to have enough medication to last until I pick up my next prescription is really scary.

My perscription has also been sent to the wrong pharmacy twice. I will wait weeks for my prescription to be approved, only to contact my GP to find out that despite updating my address on the app, the GP sends my prescription to my home address. I then have to phone up this pharmacy, which is very small and often takes a while to answer the phone, to ask them to return it to the ‘spine’. At this point, I am usually very stressed and wondering why on earth it has happened again.

Similarly, the other day, I received multiple missed calls and a voicemail from my doctor’s surgery telling me that I must book a prescription review as I was overdue. After waiting in a long queue over the phone, I was told that there are not any prescription review slots available at the moment. It doesn’t make sense!

Emily: Don’t even get me started on the frustration of having to pay for prescriptions whilst in full-time university education. Again, I notice my privilege of having access to world-class medication and I understand that it’s not cheap however I just think they’ve slightly got the cut-off for having to pay for prescriptions wrong.

In the UK, prescriptions are free up until the age of 16 and then between 16-18 if you’re in full-time education. They are also free if you’re on income-based benefits, on an annual family income tax credit of under £15,276, pregnant, or exempt for certified medical reasons. Now, this sounds like a lot of people are benefiting from free NHS prescriptions, and yes they probably are, but within the student population, only a small minority of people fit into any of these categories.

It is worth noting here that for all age groups, contraception is free on the NHS.

The NHS low-income scheme is an application that could help pay for prescriptions yet you’re only eligible if you do not have capital or savings of over £6,000. If this applies to you, I’d very much recommend looking into it but for most students with a student loan, and perhaps a part-time job, this doesn’t cover us. So, I suppose the £9.35 per item is just the norm.

A few weeks ago I was suffering from a pretty nasty sinus infection as a result of the flu. After a long call to 111, I was prescribed antibiotics that night and told to immediately go and pick them up. When faced with the £9.35 bill, I had no real choice but to pay it. If I wanted to get better I needed the medication, this was something made clear to me by the doctor I’d spoken to. Without the antibiotics, there was a chance my infection could get worse and develop into something more serious. I was stuck. I had to pay.

Now, I’m lucky that (although it was slightly annoying) I was able to pay for my prescription straight away and get the medication I needed. For many students, this isn’t the case. It just doesn’t quite make sense to me that when living with my parents, during GCSEs and A-levels I was able to get free prescriptions yet now I’m living effectively by myself but still studying full-time I’m not able to. This disconnect in eligibility is something that really needs to change.