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Call to abolish prescription charges

England should follow the example of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and abolish all prescription charges, the BMA says today.

The Department of Health is currently reviewing the list of long-term conditions that are exempt from prescription charges. In its submission to the review, the BMA says that extending exemptions without a fundamental overhaul of the whole system will simply "create a new set of arbitrary 'winners' and 'losers'".

The BMA believes that the current system is "outdated, iniquitous, and detrimental to the health of many patients".  It questions the value of expanding the list of exemptions, given the complexities involved, and the fact that only 11% of prescriptions currently attract a charge - a figure which will soon drop further with the abolition of charges for cancer patients.   

Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the BMA, says:

"Free prescriptions for people with long-term conditions is a laudable aim, but it does not go far enough.  The system we have at the moment isn't working, and is unfair on many patients.

"Making the list of exemptions longer will not make it fairer.  Ultimately, we could end up with a situation where only a tiny proportion of prescriptions attract a charge, which would be nonsensical.  

"Abolishing prescription charges altogether is the fairest and the simplest option."

The BMA's submission highlights the unfair nature of the current system. For example, people with asthma and heart disease, who may require medication over a prolonged period, are not exempt. People whose incomes are low, but are just above the levels required to trigger exemptions, are also penalised, it says.

It argues that prescription charges can act as a disincentive to taking essential medication, and that scrapping them altogether could have benefits to society as a whole as well as for individuals.  For example, it could reduce hospital admissions, and help people return to work more quickly following illness.


Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"There is a huge anomaly in the services provided in the UK as a whole. Scotland certainly get more of a share of our taxes than we do in England, with more ambulances and hospital beds per head of population. The vast majority of the taxpayers are in England, who invariably pay for this free service for the rest of the UK, so why are we subsidising people who dislike us?? I am not opposed to paying a nominal sum for prescriptions, but many of my patients have to choose which medications they can do without. Three items cost over £21, and on a low
income this can be a burden. The cost of living is far, far higher the further south you travel, and the vast majority of salaries do not mirror this. Take nursing, for example. I have experience of working in Scotland, and my salary went further due to the
lower cost of living. I also agree with the previous comment from Theresa; we do appear to be supporting a huge number of foreign nationals on our welfare and NHS. This should be examined and a more fair system for English people should be adopted, with a qualifying timeframe for foreign nationals implemented." - Name and address supplied

"Why do we allow Scotland and Wales to treat citizens of the UK
differently - they don't charge their kids to go to university, how has the situation got to this? Let them pay for there own armed forces etc, they may decide to rejoin us then!!" - Tim Lewis, Cotswolds

"It would make more sense for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to rethink their position on prescription charges. A much fairer and economical way would be to introduce a nominal charge that everybody could pay for each prescription issued, eg, £2.This would bring in a revenue that would allow all four governments to have the finance to supply the drug treatments that are being witheld for some terminal illnesses. The people that would pay this charge would mean everyone, with the exception of those in the population who would be over retirement age, and would certainly include those who are new residents from all other countries. As no one realised that the country is in depresssion we need to start taking accountability for ourselves." - Elaine Wilson, South Wales

"We have a great NHS, so let it be just that - national. If part of our nation has free prescriptions (and it would appear that a
majority do) then so should we all. I am not opposed to prescription charges in principle as if everything is free the doctors surgeries will be full of people requesting precriptions for easily purchasable over-the-counter medicines because they want it free. There has to be some happy medium. Perhaps the parts of our nation that give free prescriptions should charge a little and England should charge less so evening out the cost over the nation. I am also unsure if how we chose what should be free should not be changed. Instead of naming a condition and giving that sufferer all their prescriptions free may be there is a better way of working things out. I've never seen the logic behind giving a patient all their prescriptions free just because they need to take a thyroxine tablet every day. Yes get the thyroxine free but why everything else too?" - Catherine Smith, Herts

"The burden falls on so few patients scrapping should be immediate and prescription made free for all." - V Henry

"If we scrap prescription charges, the money will need to come from somewhere else, which may mean other medical services do not get as much funding. We are very privileged in this country to have the NHS, unlike most other countries. I have lived in another European country for several years, where I needed to contribute towards the cost of a doctor's
visit, blood test or hospital stay. This taught me to really value the healthcare system we have when I returned to England. I support the review of long-term conditions requiring exemptions but not abolition of prescription charges as it could potentially take away a person's responsibility for health by paying towards the cost. If prescriptions are free it could also lead to wastage of medications." - Glyn Williams, London

"I agree to abolishing charges so all patients can take appropriate meds as needed (and not borrow inhalers etc, from other people as they can't afford to pay as this is present common practice - adults sharing children's inhalers!) Many other examples of patients not taking Rx because of cost." - Sharon Norbury, Canterbury

"As a nurse on a low income I struggle to maintain payment for the numerous drugs I have to take for my heart condition and chronic arthritis. I have to admit I do leave meds off on occasions when 'money is too tight to mention'. I am, therefore, in TOTAL agreement that prescription charges should be abolished." - Joy Roberts, Cheshire

"I have known patients to refuse items on their prescriptions to make them more afordable. Paying for your medicines on a pre-paid card does save money but then the patient needs to pay a significant amount up front, which is not an option for people on a low income. Why should someone who chooses to work for minimum wages instead of sitting at home on benefits
be penalised? Make it fair - abolish all charges." - Dorothy Sherry, Essex

"Whilst I very much agree with the abolition of prescription charges as someone who requires an inhaler I often try to make it last longer due to the latge charges. I do wonder how the costs will be funded and whether other services would suffer because of this." - Sian Kilcoyne, Bolton

"I agree totally with the last paragraph of this article. Many patients have admitted to me that their medication is unaffordable and that they need to spend what money they have on other essential items, for example, food and children's clothing. My family live in North Wales and it's where I lived for 20 years of my life, why should things be so different in Wales? Of course, abolishing prescription charges is fair and is a move in
the right direction for better health and in the long run as we know could lead to fewer hospital admissions which in turn leads to lower NHS costs!" - Gill Belchamber, Wiltshire

"I think that prescription charges should remain and that more accesss for patients to attend expert patient programmes/ exercise programmes should be encouraged and gym memberships subsidised." - Name and address supplied

"A good idea for essential drugs such as asthma and heart meds, but all creams such as e45 should not be free." - Name and address supplied

"I am a community matron and have noticed that over the winter many younger patients ie, under 65, have required medical interventions or have become short of breath and have no inhaler! I asked myself why? The most probable answer is cost, leading to nonconcordance and subsequent poor health. These people will be the next generation of severe COPD patients if they do not get a better control of their current condition." - Angela Price, West Midlands

"We are supposed to live in a free healthcare society, our taxes should pay for our medication. In primary care we spend hours upon hours providing healthcare information and then prescribe medication to support this, all to be defeated as patients cannot afford to implement this advice and support; especially with patients who have chronic conditions. It contradicts all the extra training we take on for patient benefit. Also, the government should be less "PC" and look after its own people before allowing individuals to move into this country and then bring their families over to claim benefits etc..." - Theresa Mulroy, Manchester