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Independents' Day

Prescription charges to be abolished for chronically ill

By Nigel Praities

The Government plans to abolish prescription charges for all patients with long-term conditions in ‘the next few years'.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced all patients with cancer would be exempt from prescription charges at the Labour Party conference in Manchester last week, as the first step to scrapping charges for a range of other conditions.

And a spokesperson from the Department of Health told Pulse: ‘From next year we will abolish prescription charges for all cancer patients, and over the next few years we will abolish charges for all patients with long-term conditions.'

Currently, only patients with certain serious medical conditions such as diabetes, hypoparathyroidism and myasthenia gravis are eligible for free prescriptions. Other conditions such as osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis or mental health problems, where patients often have to pay for three or four prescriptions per week, are excluded.

Criticism of prescription charges in England has been heightened by the abolition of charges by the devolved administrations of Wales and Scotland.

The Department of Health said it would be consulting with stakeholders over the coming months about how to introduce the scheme, that could cost up to £350 million.

The move has been welcomed by GPs.

Dr Iain Gilchrist, a GP in Essex and treasurer of the Primary Care Rheumatology Society, said the current system was ‘full of anomalies'.

‘If people are on multiple prescriptions and are struggling to stay in work and especially if they have any co-morbidity it can be quite a problem.

‘Why should someone with hypoparathyroidism for instance be exempt when they only need one medication, when someone with arthritis who needs several medications have to pay the full prescription charge for each one?' he said.

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