Northern Ireland Government proposal to reintroduce prescription charges - our response and call to action
On Tuesday 17 February, Northern Ireland Health Minister, Jim Wells MLA announced a consultation on access to new specialist medicines in Northern Ireland. As part of this, the Government want to reconsider the provision of free prescriptions in Northern Ireland. Prescription charges were abolished in Northern Ireland in 2010.
The Prescription Charges Coalition is opposing any reintroduction of charges for people with long-term conditions. We believes that everyone with a long-term condition should be exempt from prescription charges wherever they live in the UK.
In a joint statement, we highlight the fact that medication is extremely important to help people with long-term conditions to manage their symptoms and lead independent lives.
There is a strong evidence base which demonstrates that prescription charges act as a barrier to people with long-term conditions obtaining the medication they require. This can lead to poor management of the condition and complications that may result in greater cost to health and social services.
Read our ‘Paying the Price’ reports here
It is our strongly held view that people with long-term conditions in Northern Ireland would be disadvantaged by the reintroduction of charges and some may be unable to afford their medicines, potentially leading to poor health, increased hospital admissions and lower productivity.
We do not think it is right to consider prescription charges in the context of access to new specialist medicines. Governments can choose how to raise revenue and support the availability of specialist medicines. The Prescription Charges Coalition do not believe it is appropriate, reasonable or fair to do this at the expense of those with long-term conditions and will be responding accordingly to the consultation.
The consultation period will run for twelve weeks until 8 May and there will be a number of public consultation events. The Minister has said that he looks forward to hearing the public’s views.
What you can do
Share our statement with your Northern Ireland Assembly Member by writing to them, tweeting your representative using the hashtag #prescriptioncharges or on Facebook. You can find their contact details here.
Respond to the consultation here highlighting your views and the impact that you consider this would have for you and others with long-term conditions.
It will be particularly powerful if you can describe the difference not having to pay for prescription has made to the management of your condition. How would paying prescription charges impact on you financially? You may want to mention other charges or expenses you pay that are associated with your health condition. You may want to explain why your medication is important to you and the role it plays in keeping you well.
Please do share your responses with us using this feedback form or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to inform our response to the government.
It was very encouraging to see support from senior GPs for reform of the system for prescription charges following the release of DTB's survey.
The chairman of the British Medical Association's GP clinical and prescribing subcommittee, Dr Andrew Green told the publication GP:
‘There is simply no rhyme nor reason to the exemption system, the origins of which are lost in the dark ages.
All GPs will be aware of patients who have not completed treatment courses due to difficulties with payment, and the scheme turns dispensing doctors and pharmacists into tax collectors.’
Read the full article here
The Nursing Times also featured the survey with a piece headlined "Practice nurses back overhaul of English script charging system".
Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, is quoted:
"Any barrier to life-saving medication has the potential to put the lives of people with asthma as risk."
A nurse commented that:
"People often don't get all their inhalers as they cannot always afford them, hence they often have poor control over their asthma/COPD."
Read the full article here
Two thirds of primary care health professionals think that the current exemption criteria for prescription charges in England should be widened to include anyone with a long term condition, reveal the results of a survey commissioned by Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB).
Nearly 90% think that prescription charges deter some patients from requesting or ‘cashing’ prescriptions.
These findings add further weight to what is already a very strong case for reform of the criteria for medical exemption from charges.
Our research shows that the cost of prescriptions is significantly affecting people’s ability to manage their long term condition effectively and to work. This is leading to worsening health, further cost to the NHS, and days off work. The criteria for medical exemption, set as long ago as 1968, are now strikingly outdated and highly inequitable. Reform, to include all long term conditions, is well overdue.”
The full survey results can be found here.
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