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Labour party plans to abolish NHS prescription charges

Comes amid increased focus on drug pricing in the US

NHS England

The Labour party has pledged to get rid of all prescription charges in England at its party conference. 

Prescriptions are currently free of charge for people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but for those living in England there is a cost of £9 per medication.

Certain exemptions are applicable, with people receiving certain benefits, pregnant women, children and over-60s not having to pay for prescriptions.

“Even though many of our most vulnerable patients are already exempt from standard prescription charges, the fact that fees exist in England means there is real risk that some people might not obtain and take the medication they need", said Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs.

Although over 80% of prescriptions have no cost, there are those who have certain long-term conditions which are not exempt, so must pay up to £104 per year. This includes condition such as hyperthyroidism, asthma and chronic kidney disease among others.

Responding to the planned announcement, Farah Jameel from the BMA’s General Practitioner Committee said that “it will have a direct positive impact on improving patients' health, making them less likely to need further GP or hospital care or be at risk of worsening health”.

“This in turn, reduces the overall cost to the NHS in England,” she added.

The NHS has recently been facing increasing scrutiny, as its performance statistics now routinely show underperformance and a service buckling under the pressure of record demands.

The move comes close on the heels of the announcement of the Democrats’ final drug pricing plan in the US, which includes a list of 250 targeted drugs which would be subject to cost-cutting negotiations.

Under the proposed plan, the federal government would gain the ability to negotiate and cap prices on certain high-cost drugs.

The aim of the new proposal is to lower drug costs for patients, as patient campaign groups have repeatedly been calling for prices to be cut. This has been particularly prevalent among the diabetes community, following multiple patient deaths after missing doses of insulin due to high costs.

Although the cost of prescription medicines are much higher in the US, the announcement from Labour renews the debate around equal access to all medications, especially for certain long-term conditions such as asthma which can cause death.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

23rd September 2019

From: Healthcare

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