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Independents' Day

England's 'shameful' prescription charges should be scrapped, leading journal says

By Ashleigh Goff

An influential journal has weighed into the row over prescription charges and called for them to be scrapped in England.

England is the only one of the four UK countries that has either not already scrapped the charge or plans to do so by April 2011.

In an editorial published today in the BMJ's Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin, prescription charges are referred to as a tax which is primarily in place to raise revenue.

The £7.20 levied on prescription medicines does not directly reflect the cost of the drug prescribed and does not specifically fund health services, the journal's editorial argues.

At the annual BMA conference in Liverpool earlier this week, BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said ‘prescription charges had become an unfair tax on illness.'

The Department of Health is currently reviewing its prescription charges policy, including waiving them for patients with long-term illness, including all illnesses lasting over six months.

A BMA spokesperson said: ‘Administering free prescriptions for patients with conditions lasting over six months would still involve unnecessary and costly bureaucracy. The BMA remains firmly of the view that the abolition of all charges is the fairest, simplest, and least bureaucratic option.'

Advocates for prescription charges also argue that its abolition could cause patients to demand medicines ‘of dubious value', but the DTB said questionable drugs should not be prescribed to begin with.

Dr Ike Iheanacho, editor of the Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin, concluded: ‘It is a poorly conceived, manifestly unfair tax that shames the NHS and the Department of Health. It needs to go.'

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