Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Medicine or the next meal: choice some students face

Union leaders throw weight behind Tele's free prescriptions campaign

Student leaders today threw their weight behind the Belfast Telegraph's Prescriptions: Free For All campaign - warning that some debt-ridden students are forced to choose between medication and their next meal.

The NUS-USI student movement is planning to lobby in the coming academic year with the aim of securing free prescriptions for everyone studying in Northern Ireland.

The organisation's president Katie Morgan congratulated the Telegraph for the Prescriptions: Free For All campaign, which is calling for charges to be completely scrapped for everyone.

She also welcomed a cost and benefit review ordered by Health Minister Michael McGimpsey into the possibility of scrapping charges.

Its review team is expected to report back by the end of the financial year.

Ms Morgan said access to prescription drugs and treatments should be given on the "basis of need, as determined by professionals, and not on the basis of income, wealth or occupation".

"We give our full support to the Belfast Telegraph's campaign for free prescriptions for all in society, specifically students in our case.

"This year, after being mandated by the students of Northern Ireland, free prescriptions for students is one of our key campaigns," she said.

"We believe that in the current climate of unprecedented student debt, no student should have to make the choice between their next prescription and their next meal."

The student leader, who represents in the region of 185,000 students in further and higher education institutions throughout Northern Ireland, also stressed that a new policy of free prescriptions would "cut down on the very expensive form-filling and bureaucracy that currently exists".

"Like many others, we believe the current list of exemptions is out-dated and does not reflect the basic principle of the NHS- putting the patient first," she added.

"We congratulate the Belfast Telegraph for highlighting this campaign in such an effective manner and await the Department of Health's next moves on it after May's Assembly vote."

The Prescriptions: Free For All campaign was launched in April to call on the Assembly to address the matter of charges urgently. Exempt conditions currently include diabetes and epilepsy, but not other chronic illnesses such as cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and asthma.

The announcement of a benefit review by Mr McGimpsey came on the heels of our campaign calling on charges to be abolished, or for the out-dated list of exempt conditions to be overhauled.

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