Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Paying for prescriptions

Yesterday I picked up a prescription from my local pharmacy. NHS prescription charges have risen again, now £8.05 per item. While I don't need regular prescriptions, it made me spare a thought for those people who do.

Prescriptions raise valuable resources for the NHS. But for people with long-term conditions who take several medicines every month, the cost can be prohibitively expensive. At present, England is the only part of the UK where patients pay for their prescriptions, unless they are exempt (see below). In Wales, Northern Island and Scotland, prescribed medicines are free for everyone.

The Prescription Charges Coalition (PCC) is campaigning for free NHS prescriptions for everyone of working age who has a long-term condition. The PCC, which has more than 30 member charities and organisations (including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society), has found that many people are having to choose between food, clothing, bills or prescriptions. Some patients are rationing their prescriptions, or stopping them completely, because they simply can't afford them. Yet prescription medicines are vital in preventing serious health problems associated with long-term conditions and ultimately in reducing extra costs to the NHS and society as a whole.

In a survey by the PCC on prescription charges and employment in March 2014, over a third of people reported that the cost of their medication had prevented them from taking it as prescribed, with significant numbers saying this had affected their ability to work.

So are you entitled to free NHS prescriptions?
Some people can get free NHS prescriptions because of their age, income or medical condition. Visit  NHS Choices to find out if you are one of them.

Only certain medical conditions are covered. According to a report by the PCC in March 2013, this list is limited and not in keeping with the times. While people with insulin-controlled diabetes or an underactive thyroid are entitled to free prescriptions, those with asthma, high blood pressure, arthritis etc. still have to pay. The PCC's report (Paying the Price - Prescription Charges and People with Long-term Conditions) states:

'While some people are exempt from prescription charges on the basis of age, income and medical condition, the criteria for exemptions were set in 1968 and have remained largely unchanged since then. 45 years on, these criteria are now outdated, arbitrary and inequitable. Schemes to provide extra support with health costs, in particular the Prescription Prepayment Certificate and NHS Low Income Scheme are poorly publicised and difficult to access.'

The PCC is calling for people in England to email their MP, asking them to call for an end to prescription charges for those with long-term conditions. Visit the PCC's Take Action page to learn more.

So how can you minimise the cost?
The Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC) is intended to help people with long-term conditions, as long as they live in England. It is basically a season ticket for prescription medicines, for a period of either three months (£29.10) or 12 months (£104), covering all prescriptions during that period.

The PPC allows anyone to obtain all the prescriptions they need for £2 a week. However, it's only worth it if you require four or more prescription items over three months or 13 or more items over one year, and probably isn't worth it at all if your medical condition is unpredictable or fluctuating.

You can pay by 10 monthly direct debit instalments. Visit to buy a PPC online, phone 0300 330 1341 or fill in the form FP95 (available from your pharmacy or GP surgery). Some pharmacies also sell PPCs direct.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Natural hayfever relief

If you don't want to use conventional hayfever treatments, or you can't do so because of an underlying medical problem or pregnancy for example, there are other things a pharmacy can offer.

1. If you are suffering from a blocked nose, use a seawater, or saline, nasal spray (such as Aqua Maris or Sterimar Nasal Hygiene) - I find these very effective for a stuffy nose caused by both hayfever and a cold.  These are ideal for pregnant and breast-feeding women, children and people taking prescribed medicines for long-term medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, high blood pressure).

2. Limit how much pollen actually gets into your nose. With HayMax pollen barrier balm, you dab a small amount around your nostrils in the morning and evening to form a visible barrier. HayMax blocks pollen, dust and pet allergens too. Care Allergy Defence is a powder nasal spray that works by reacting with moisture within the nose, creating an invisible thin protective gel barrier. NasalGuard AllergieBlock Topical Gel also forms a protective barrier - the positively charged gel blocks negatively charged allergens on contact before they get a chance to enter your nose. Petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline) is also effective.

3. Pollen spreads easily in the air so it's difficult to avoid completely. But if all else fails, you could try these avoidance measures to reduce your pollen exposure:
  1. Check the pollen forecast every day (visit the Met Office website).
  2. Limit outdoor trips to rural areas - the seaside may be a better option as the sea breeze blows pollen inland
  3. If you do go out, remember to shower and wash your hair on your return and change your clothes.
  4. Keep your windows closed when indoors, especially in the early morning and early evening, as this is when pollen is highest.
  5. Wear wraparound sunglasses when outdoors to stop pollen flying into your eyes
For more advice on pollen exposure and treating hayfever, visit Allergy UK's website:

Is your hayfever under control?

It is Allergy Awareness Week in the UK, timed to coincide with the start of the hayfever season.

Hayfever is often thought of as a minor inconvenience - causing a slight stuffy nose, itchy eyes, an occasional sneezing fit ... But for many of the 18 million hayfever sufferers in Britain, it can cause significant distress. I know that when my hayfever flares up, I feel tired, heady and lose my concentration easily. Poorly controlled hayfever can lead to an asthma flare up and is a common trigger of sinusitis and ear infections at this time of year. So it's essential to make sure you are using the right medicines and products to ease your hayfever symptoms.

According to Allergy UK, millions of people don't find that their hayfever medicines effectively control their symptoms - and this is usually down to user error. New research by the charity reveals that while one in three hayfever sufferers use a corticosteroid nasal spray, only 14% are using it correctly. This means that for 86% of nasal spray users, the product won't work for them.

During Allergy Awareness Week, Allergy UK is urging hayfever sufferers to speak to their local pharmacist about their symptoms and how to use the nasal sprays properly. The key is to tip your head forward while looking down, insert the nozzle and spray towards the outside of your nose. Your pharmacist should be able to give you a demonstration if you are having problems with your technique.

If you use antihistamines for your hayfever, check that you are using the right one. According to Allergy UK research, 12% of hayfever sufferers are using sedating antihistamines (e.g. chlorphenamine), which can make you feel drowsy. You would be far better off sticking to one-a-day antihistamine products (e.g. those containing cetirizine, loratidine or acrivastine), as these won't affect driving, work or your social life.

With any over-the-counter medicines, always ask the pharmacist before you buy, to make sure the products are suitable for you and won't interact with anything else you are taking.

Monday, 28 April 2014


Welcome to my new blog on getting the best out of your local pharmacy. I've been writing about health for over 20 years.  I have spent a considerable amount of time writing for pharmacists and the rest of the pharmacy team. Well now it's time for me to write about pharmacies with the customer in mind.

A pharmacy is the 'health clinic on the high street' at the heart of the community. It provides easily-accessible health advice from a highly qualified healthcare professional, alongside effective products and medicines for a wide range of symptoms.

According to the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), 90% of people in Britain visit a pharmacy at least once a year, and there are 1.6 million visits to a pharmacy every day. Ninety-six percent of the population can get to a pharmacy within 20 minutes by walking or using public transport. Yet surveys by the NPA reveal that while people visit a pharmacy for medicines advice, many don't know about the wide range of services and other products on offer.

My blog will be looking at products and services offered by Britain's 13,000 community pharmacies -  from eczema creams to cold and flu relief, prescription charges to blood pressure checks, and weight management advice to Medicines Use Reviews (MURs).