Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Medicine charges 'morally wrong'

Cancer charity adds its weight to campaign for free prescriptions

It is morally wrong that people in Northern Ireland are forced to pay for vital prescriptions while those in Scotland and Wales do not.



That's the view of leading charity Macmillan Cancer Support after a recent announcement that Scotland is to follow the lead of Wales by abolishing prescription charges.

The Scottish Assembly revealed under its budget plans last week that £97m is to be spent over the next three years in a gradual phasing out of NHS prescription charges. The move leaves Northern Ireland and England the only parts of the UK with no plans to scrap medicine charges.

Wales completely scrapped prescription charges in April of this year after phasing them out over a number of years.

Macmillan Cancer Support general manager in Northern Ireland, Heather Monteverde, said the situation of whether you pay prescription charges depending on which part of the UK you live in must stop.

"Macmillan Cancer Support's research shows that 91% of cancer patients suffer financially and that almost one in 10 cancer patients are unable to afford their prescriptions," Ms Monteverde said.

"It's morally wrong that people in Northern Ireland are still being forced to pay for vital drugs when these charges have been abolished in Scotland and Wales.

"Outdated prescription charge rules in Northern Ireland are pushing the financial burden on to cancer patients who are increasingly liable for prescription charges, often for long periods of time," she stressed.

The charity chief described the situation as "ridiculous".

"We must end this postcode lottery, it's ridiculous that patients here are struggling to get the medication they desperately need simply because they can't afford to buy it," she added.

The Belfast Telegraph launched its Prescriptions: Free For All campaign in April, calling on the Assembly to look into scrapping prescription charges - or at least overhaul the out-dated list of exempt conditions.

Exempt conditions currently include diabetes and epilepsy, but not other chronic illnesses such as cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and asthma.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey later announced a cost and benefit review into abolishing charges.

It is due to report back by early next year.

The current charge for each prescription item dispensed in Northern Ireland is £6.85. Pre-payment certificates are also available at most pharmacies for patients in need of regular prescriptions.

They cost £98.70 for a year or £35.85 for four months.

These are more economical for patients who purchase, on prescription, more than five items in a four month period or more than 14 items in a year.

Belfast Telegraph readers can voice their support for the campaign or share stories of any financial burden caused by paying prescription charges by emailing

cregan@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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