Living in the United Kingdom I have to say hand on heart that I feel so lucky and appreciative of the NHS and the varied services it provides either free or at a lower cost. Having a “bag for life” in so many countries around the world is incredibly costly and many don’t have the choice in what products they use. I am aware that over the last couple of years we had a roll out where unless absolutely necessary items were being swapped to cheaper alternatives to bring the cost down around ostomy products. I have talked about this numerous times on different platforms about how certain products aren’t essential but are just nice to have; these items should be bought at our own expense such as bag de-odorisers as let’s face it everyone’s poop stinks!
We as ostomates in the UK are so lucky that we get our supplies for free and having a medical exemption card ensures that they are free for a certain amount of time but do you know much about the cards?
What is a medical exemption card? You maybe asking yourself. Do I have one? Do I need one?
Medical exemption cards are different to prepaid prescription certificates which you may have had before your ostomy surgery. The prepaid prescription certificates allow you to pay for your prescriptions for a certain length of time for example a year for a set price; with this you would be entitled to get any prescriptions in that time for free. The medical exemption card means you get them free without having to pay an upfront fee, it works in the same way as a maternity exemption card when you are pregnant or for up to a year after the baby is born. You show this card to your chemist and tick the box on the back of your prescription. Most chemist staff will learn who has cards or not and for me when I go to mine (which is in a village) they don’t even ask to see my card because they know me. This still bemuses me even though I thankfully don’t collect prescriptions for myself that often anymore but I do for the elderly I support.
If you have a permanent ostomy amongst other varying conditions you qualify for one of these cards but sometimes your stoma care nurse may apply for one if you have a temporary ostomy too. I haven’t heard of many people with a temporary stoma who haven’t had one requested by their medical team. If you ever have looked at the price of ostomy supplies you would automatically breathe a sigh of sweet relief as a box of 10 bags can be upward of £60 then you would have the price of any essentials or accessories each month would be quite costly. I was led to believe from articles that those with a permanent stoma would be entitled to this card as we have no option of it being reversed but some people have temporary ones for life too so really should be entitled also.
These cards last for 5 years and you have to renew it if your situation hasn’t changed. I recently received a letter telling me I needed to get in touch with my doctors surgery and fill in a form explaining why I need it renewed. I know some people get a bit uppity about these things and just expect it to be automatically renewed but these are computer generated letters that serve as a polite reminder. The form was really simple and I just ticked the box that said ostomy, signed and dated it then the doctor checked and signed it later then sent it off. A couple of weeks later I received my new card in the post which was really hassle free and I’m hoping the same happens again in 5 years time when it needs renewing as my stoma maybe moving sides but it certainly isn’t going any where!
Many of us may take receiving the card for granted as initially to even get a card your medical team would send off the correct forms before you even leave the hospital so your first order of stoma supplies isn’t disrupted. Which if you are a first time ostomate you really don’t need the worry or added stress of running out of bags, when you are adapting to a new normal. Let alone trying to navigate the mine field that is finding the delivery company that you prefer – and that can take awhile! Trust me I’m on my fourth in five years right now!
If you have had your ostomy for nearly 5 years? If so it may be time to take your card out of your wallet or purse or wherever you keep it and just check the date on it. If you need to get in touch with your doctors surgery and fill out the form then it isn’t the end of the world and can keep the continuity flowing. It is our responsibility to ensure it is in date and there is no harm in doing it before the letter arrives as that in itself is just a reminder. I feel that if we pop a reminder on the calendar or on our phones we can keep on top of these things and sure sometimes it can feel like one extra thing on top of a never ending list when it comes to our medical issues.