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Prescription charge debate continues

NHS prescription charges will stay below the rate of inflation, the Department of Health announced on March 6 amid calls for an urgent review of the charging system

NHS prescription charges will stay below the rate of inflation, the Department of Health announced on March 6 amid calls for an urgent review of the charging system.

However, the cost of a prescription will go up by 25p from the current rate to £7.10, an increase that will be effective from the beginning of the next fiscal year on April 1.

The Department of Health was keen to remind people that this is the tenth consecutive year that prescription charges will remain below the national level of inflation. But the government expects to make substantial capital gains from national prescription charges.

Health minister, Dawn Primarolo, said: "Prescription charges are expected to raise £435m in the next financial year - that's valuable income that can be ploughed back into the NHS."

The government reports that, in 2006, less than 7 per cent of prescriptions were charged to patients and a further 5 per cent were collected with prepayment certificates.

Primarolo said: "In England, 88 per cent of prescription items are free of charge thanks to our extensive exemption arrangements."

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain's pharmacy board has responded to this announcement by calling for an urgent review of prescription charges calling the current system, "illogical and unfair". The society's board said: "There is a case for abolition of prescription charges and exemptions in England; however, the implications of such a move are considerable. "The society firmly believes in better access to prescribed medicines for all patients without the constraints of a financial barrier," the pharma board added.

In February 2008, UK-based charity, Citizens Advice also called on the government to commence an urgent review of prescription charges and to eradicate what it called, "prescription poverty".

Research carried out for Citizens Advice by Ipsos Mori showed that almost 800,000 prescriptions are not collected due to people being unable to afford the cost and that there has been no measured improvement in the situation since 2001. [PMLive February 2008.]

7th March 2008

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