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Mental health and society

What price student mental health?

9 May 2017

In Wales prescription medicines are free. In England the situation is different, with each prescribed item now costing £8.60. Exemptions can be claimed, including by people aged 60 or over, under 16, or those between 16-18 and in full-time education. Exemptions also exist for people with certain medical conditions, for people on low incomes, for pregnant women and for women who have given birth in the last 12 months. For people not eligible for exemptions costs can be reduced through prepayment certificates.

Students aged 19 or over are not automatically exempted from paying prescription costs in England. As the BBC reported last week this is having a particularly damaging effect in the case of students prescribed medication for the treatment of mental health conditions. In its report the BBC includes an interview with a student, Charlie, who talks about incurring a prescription bill of £100 incurred over two months as her medications were adjusted. Another student, Rosie, describes having to make choices over paying for her prescriptions or paying her rent. As the BBC adds, applications for exemptions through the NHS Low Income Scheme are lengthy and in the case of student applicants ask that any income received from parents be declared.

Universities UK, the National Union of Students and the charity Student Minds are amongst those in the further and higher education sectors working to improve recognition of student mental health issues and to improve access to help and support. Now, the BBC reports that the Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, is supporting the exempting of all students living with mental health difficulties from paying prescription charges as a way of removing at least one barrier to people receiving the help they need. With more than a quarter of students responding to a YouGov survey last year reporting personal experience of mental health difficulties removing financial barriers to securing help is sensible indeed. From a vantage point in Wales we might go a step further and ask why charges are still levied, at all, on medications prescribed to people living in England.