As a specialist healthcare lobbying and PR consultancy, with indepth knowledge on the issues surrounding the system of prescription charges, PRimage has long maintained that the current system is inequable and needs reviewing; so we were delighted at the PM’s announcement yesterday that patients with long-term conditions will get free prescriptions in England. To much applause at the Labour Conference, Brown promised that cancer patients will not have to pay any prescription charges from next year, with exceptions for other long-term conditions to follow afterwards. Judy Viitanen and the PRimage team totally support and warmly welcome the move, which immediately takes around 250,000 people out of NHS prescription charges, rising to five million in the longer term.
We understand that the Government will consult with clinicians, stakeholders and patient groups to work out which conditions will be covered. At present, long-term conditions are those that cannot be cured but can be controlled through medication and other therapies and which have an impact on a person’s quality of life. We also understand that the cost of these plans is expected to be paid for by making savings in the overall drugs budget, by more bulk-buying of drugs and increased use of cheaper generic versions rather than branded ones. The change is estimated to cost £20 million over the next year, rising to £300 million a year over the long-term as more conditions are covered, and is expected to save many patients £100-a-year or more.
Mr Brown’s comment that he and health secretary, Alan Johnson, understood that they needed to do more to relieve the financial worry that so often goes alongside the heartache for cancer patients and their families was spot-on. Having nursed her husband with terminal cancer, Judy Viitanen has first hand experience of this – and she is relieved that people will no longer face this added financial burden when they are fighting cancer.
Prescription charges have already been scrapped in Wales and Scotland – but at the moment the situation in England is that each prescription item costs £7.10 – although patients needing regular courses can pay a flat rate of £102.50 for a year’s supply. Charges raise over £400m for the NHS, but a range of exemptions are already in place meaning just 12% of prescriptions are currently paid for. These exemptions already cover a few medical conditions such as epilepsy and some forms of diabetes as well as children, pensioners and those on low incomes.
PRimage have consistently lobbied and supported the well-argued case for a total abolition of prescription charges: it is an important issue that has growing public support: a BBC poll of 1,000 people earlier this year found three quarters wanted prescriptions charges to end. Prescription charges were scrapped in Wales in 2007 and will be phased out in Scotland by 2011. Northern Ireland has frozen its charges while it considers whether to abolish prescription charges following a recent review.
We believe that if one accepts the concept of the NHS being free at the point of delivery, then there is a strong and valid arguement for the total abolition of script charges across the UK – not just in Wales and Scotland. Our view is that this would significantly reduce patient inequity. In July this year Bob Spink MP tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) on Prescription Charges in England. Health Ministers are planning to launch a consultation in the near future, but this will only be looking at “cost-neutral” ways of tweaking the system. PRimage urges everyone to lobby their local MP to support this EDM – and put pressure on the Government to implement the review as soon as possible!