A hidden harm

Why healthcare professionals want to stop unfair asthma prescription charges

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In conjunction with the Royal College of Nursing, the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists and Primary Care Respiratory Society UK, Asthma UK has conducted a survey of over 750 healthcare professionals to understand their views of asthma prescription charges.

The key findings from the survey revealed:

  • 98% of healthcare professionals think the current medical exemptions list should be reviewed
  • 57% of healthcare professionals have had patients who have had an asthma attack or needed emergency care because their patient skipped their medication
  • 48% of healthcare professionals reported patients missing an asthma appointment because they were worried about the cost of the medicines they might be prescribed. 

“This report makes for a sobering read. It is unthinkable that people in England are risking their health and potentially their lives because they cannot afford their medication. There is absolutely no justification for the current prescription charges system to continue as it is; people with asthma are being discriminated against, which is a blatant breach of ethical principles. This report conveys a powerful message which should act as a call to action for those who can make change happen. We now need politicians and policy makers to step up to the mark and address our findings as a matter of urgency.”

– Beverley Bostock, Nurse Practitioner who sat on the National Review of Asthma Deaths and Asthma Lead for the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists

Download the report to read our full recommendations.

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Updating the outdated prescription charges exemptions list

Two out of three deaths from asthma could be prevented if people received the right basic care. Access to medication is a vital part of this. Yet people with asthma, unlike those with some other long-term conditions, are not included on the prescription charges exemptions list, meaning they must pay for their medication.

The prescription charges exemptions list was formed over 50 years ago – long before effective treatments for asthma were widely available. This outdated policy means that people with asthma of working age and in employment have to pay for their NHS prescriptions, whilst many with other long-term conditions do not. We feel this is intrinsically unfair – essentially, people with asthma have to pay for the right to breathe.

Asthma + Lung UK is calling on the government to:

  • Officially review the medical exemptions list, taking into account the professional opinion of healthcare professionals and the impact on patients
  • Commit to making asthma prescriptions free of charge so that no one has to pay to breathe.

Call to action:

  • We are calling on politicians to commit to ending unfair prescription charges for people with asthma by including a pledge in their party’s manifesto.
  • We are calling on people with asthma, healthcare professionals and the public to join our campaign to fight unfair asthma prescription charges, so people with asthma can lead healthier lives.

Read more about our campaign to stop unfair asthma prescription charges.


The report’s appendices contain the data included in the report, notes on the data used and further detail on referral criteria.

Download the report appendices