Thousands of prescriptions are going unfilled each year as New Zealanders struggle to cover the cost.
The latest Ministry of Health New Zealand Health Survey for 2015-2016 showed those in deprived areas were four times as likely to have not filled a prescription due to cost than those in the least deprived areas, with 15 per cent of those living in the most deprived areas going without medicine due to cost.
One in five Pasifika adults (19.3 per cent) could not afford to fill a prescription. Figures were similarly high for Māori, with 14.9 per cent letting their scripts lapse.
By comparison, prescription costs have prevented 6.3 per cent of New Zealand European adults from collecting medicine in the past 12 months.
* Cost stopping hundreds of thousands from picking up medical prescriptions
* Prescription price rise hits vulnerable
* $3 prescription cost ‘too much for some’
Children in the most deprived areas were 5.6 times as likely to have not collected a prescription due to cost in the past year, and adults living in the most deprived areas were 2.5 times more likely to rate themselves as being in fair or poor health compared with adults living in the least deprived areas, the survey found.
Wellington pharmacist Graeme Blanchard said upfront prescription costs were a “significant” issue for many, but especially for those with greater health needs.
Blanchard, who is also president of the Pharmacy Guild, said it tended not to be patients who just needed one or two medicines who were missing out.
Often patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) could have up to 10 medicines prescribed to them, meaning they were paying between $30 and $50 to have their scripts filled in one go.
“Those patients, the ones who are not filling multiple prescriptions, are often also the ones running the greatest risk.
“It can be a struggle,” he said.
People with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and mental illness also exhibited low prescription adherence, Blanchard said.
The trouble was, pharmacists don’t know if patients don’t show up. There is no system in New Zealand which compares written prescriptions with those filled or unfilled.
Patients who don’t take medicines they need for chronic conditions end up needing a higher quality of care, and result in the need for antibiotics and hospital admissions, he said.
It’s an issue Blanchard has been tracking in his own pharmacy over the last few years.
He saw a significant decrease – around 25 per cent – when co-payment costs went from $3 to $5 in 2013.
That kind of “huge” change can be frustrating for pharmacists, as it is their role to help improve people’s compliance and health overall, he said.
“[Pharmacists] have a big role to play in that, if we were given the chance to help.”
There is a subsidy programme in New Zealand for prescriptions, where patients pay for the first 20 scripts themselves and have the rest of their medicines fully subsidised for the rest of the year.