Why Do I Get Free Prescriptions When on Levothyroxine?

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For those of us living in the UK and using the NHS, prescriptions are free to those in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but not in England. 

However, there are certain people in England who can access free NHS prescriptions for medication, if they fit certain criteria such as having hypothyroidism and being on Levothyroxine.

Why Do We Get Free Prescriptions?

From digging around the internet, there’s no real confirmed reason.

I can only find forums of people discussing their theories as to why, when we’re put on thyroid medication (specifically Levothyroxine), that we receive unlimited free prescriptions for life.

One patient has even got in touch saying that although she self-sources her own NDT medication, she is still allowed her entitlement to free prescriptions.

This was some useful reading.

Medication For Life 

The main recurring reason I found bouncing around the internet is that because it is well recognised that if you have hypothyroidism, you’ll be taking the medication for it for life, and that it’s also well recognised that people often develop many other conditions when they have hypothyroidism, the free prescriptions help with this burden.

And this actually frustrates me a little.

When you have hypothyroidism and develop other health conditions/symptoms/problems, it often comes from being non-optimally treated.

Not from the hypothyroidism itself. For example, I used to be on many other medications when on Levothyroxine which left my Free T3 levels low, such as antidepressants, anti-acid reflux medication, the combined contraceptive pill for period problems and more. But once on NDT medication and having optimal Free T3 levels, they ironed out and I don’t require any other regular medications.

It could be possible that having hypothyroidism increases your chances of developing other conditions.

It says in this document:  “As now, exemption should be for the person rather than restricted to the treatment of the condition for which he/she is exempt Currently, patients who are exempt from prescriptions on medical grounds, receive all of their prescriptions free and not just the drugs that relate to the condition for which they are exempt. This is often regarded as unfair. However, it is frequently difficult to determine whether the patient’s current need for treatment is related or not to the index condition, or might exacerbate it. In the interests of practicality, exemption from charges on medical grounds should continue to relate to the person rather than the condition.”

So  it’s saying that because it’s a lifelong condition, that can be linked to others,  we get all medications for free for ease of not being completely sure which other conditions can be related back to it. The issue of people on lifelong medication, not being able to afford it, has been in the media several times, so this does sound helpful.

But take for instance all the extra conditions/symptoms I developed while on the wrong medication for my hypothyroidism:

  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Depression
  • GERD/Severe Acid Reflux
  • Eczema and Dermatitis
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Debilitating Hormonal Migraines
  • Leg Cramps and Spasms
  • Restless Legs
  • Brain Fog
  • Menorrhagia
  • Stiff and Painful Joints etc.

While it was great that I got the medication for all of the above ‘separate’ conditions for free, I’d have preferred for them to just get my thyroid meds right in the first place, and then I wouldn’t have needed all of them. And it would have saved the NHS more money…

Instead of covering up more and more problems and just treating multiplying issues. The initial cause, of low thyroid hormone levels, should have been addressed from the beginning. 

Life Threatening 

Another possibility for why thyroid medication prescriptions are free, is that because your body should produce thyroid hormone naturally in order to live, but doesn’t. And so it is life threatening in this sense.

Outdated Information?

Another theory is that it’s simply outdated and has never been reviewed. Take the information on this link for example. It refers to hypothyroidism as myxoedema, a term used to describe severe hypothyroidism, often when it’s so developed, that patients have swelling of the skin and underlying tissue. It can also lead to coma, and death.

So our condition, untreated, could possibly kill us. If we go into a myxodemic coma due to the lack of thyroid hormones, we could die.

Most patients don’t reach this stage (myxodemic coma) before diagnosis of course, but they did a hundred or more years ago.

Patients back then were described as having puffy faces, with myxoedema, and once started on medication (natural desiccated thyroid was used widely back then), it went away, along with their other symptoms of hypothyroidism. There are some good before and after pics here.

The condition was hugely referred to as myxoedema at this time and so the use of this name on the NHS exemption list makes you question how old this information is and when it was last reviewed. People were known to die from it, if left untreated for long enough.

Round-Up

Still, for those who do do well on Levothyroxine, and have their medical exemption certificate, it’s very useful for them to receive their prescription/s for free. To have free medication for life for a chronic, life-long, difficult condition, is a godsend and not many other countries offer this.

It just makes you wonder why other life-long conditions such as asthma, for example, aren’t on it. Asthma could kill you if left untreated. Maybe it’s because they think you could recover or ‘grow out’ of Asthma – maybe it’s not considered lifelong in such a cut and dry way as hypothyroidism.

Who knows!

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given, but more reading and references can also be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/213884/dh_116367.pdf

https://www.thyroiduk.org.uk/tuk/NHS_Information/prescription-info.html

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Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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