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Free prescriptions in Wales

From 1 April 2007, prescriptions in Wales will be free, following approval by the Welsh Assembly.

Prescription charges in Wales have been gradually reduced in line with the Welsh Assembly Government commitment to make them free by April 2007. Currently prescriptions cost £3 in Wales.

Health Minister Dr Brian Gibbons said that free prescriptions should particularly benefit those people with chronic illnesses or who are on low incomes.

"On 1 April the Welsh Assembly Government will deliver on its commitment to provide free prescriptions for the people of Wales," announced Dr Gibbons.

"The main reason for providing free prescriptions was to ensure people are not put off getting medication they need due to cost. This will therefore enable those people who need medication to get it to improve their health and ultimately their quality of life."

Research shows that many people are put off taking regular medication that would help them live healthier lives because of the cost of paying for regular prescriptions. If patients cannot afford the medicines they need to treat their condition, the long-term costs to the NHS could be far greater in terms of avoidable hospital treatment. Making prescriptions free for all is a simple way of addressing this issue.

Dr Gibbons commented: "This is the simplest and most effective way of resolving health inequalities and those inconsistencies in prescribing. The move removes all the unfairness surrounding the present outdated 1968 exemption system where, for example, a diabetes patient automatically gets all prescriptions free but a cystic fibrosis sufferer doesn't.

"It must be stressed though that the free prescription policy aims to provide medication for free that is only available with a prescription. Where patients already buy nonprescription medication over the counter they should continue to do so in the normal way. If patients change their behaviour radically this could have a detrimental impact on the NHS as a whole and indirectly on those patients who are in most need of the free prescriptions.

"GPs will continue to decide on clinical grounds what a patient needs on prescription to help improve their health.

"Those who are entitled to free prescriptions are people registered with a Welsh GP or Welsh patients who have an English GP with an accompanying entitlement card who get their prescriptions from a Welsh pharmacist."