Prescription charges in Northern Ireland will be free from today.
The move comes after last year’s announcement by the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey who was put under pressure by the Belfast Telegraph’s ‘Free For All’ campaign to scrap the unfair fee last year.
In 2009, the cost of prescriptions in Northern Ireland was cut from £6.85 to £3. This move will provide some financial relief for thousands of people on long-term medication.
The Health Minister Michael McGimpsey told a gathering at the Grove Wellbeing Centre in Belfast: “Prescription charges have been called a tax on illness. The fact is that within our community there are ill people who do not have enough money to pay for their prescriptions.
“They are being forced to choose between their medication and food, which is totally unacceptable. Why should the health service fund the cost of operations, outpatient appointments and diagnostic tests and expect people with asthma, diabetes and other lifelong conditions to pay for the medication they desperately need?”
Charging for prescriptions were abolished in Wales and is being phased out in Scotland. Charges for cancer patients have been ended in England.
In Northern Ireland the abolition of prescription charges was announced last autumn. It comes as Ulster’s NHS faces more than £700m cuts from its budget by 2011.
Mr McGimpsey added: “The cost of abolishing prescription charges will be accommodated from within my existing budget.
“No existing services will be affected by this decision. A pill is not necessary for every ill.
“I want to assure the public that I will be monitoring the volumes of drugs dispensed very carefully.
“I believe that full abolition of charges is right for Northern Ireland. It’s an economic investment as people will be able to get back to work earlier if they have the right medication. It’s also an investment in people when they need it most.”
Dr Paul Darragh, chairman of the British Medical Association’s Council in Northern Ireland, welcomed the decision to axe prescription charges.
Larne GP Brian Dunn, of the BMA’s GP committee added: “I will now be able to write prescriptions in the knowledge that cost won’t be a factor in preventing patients from taking their medicines.”
Macmillan Cancer Support, called the move a “victory”.
General manager in Northern Ireland, Heather Monteverde, added: “We would also like to acknowledge The Belfast Telegraph’s ‘Free for All’ campaign in 2007, which was a huge part of why we now have free prescriptions.”
Free medication: your questions answered
What will I now pay for prescriptions?
From April 1 there is no charge for any Health Service prescription dispensed in Northern Ireland. This will include any Health Service prescription form from England, Scotland and Wales that is dispensed here.
I already get free prescriptions. What do I need to do now?
Nothing. Continue, as before, to get free prescriptions.
Will I need to pay for a wig or surgical appliance?
No. Wigs and appliances are also free.
Can I get a refund for a Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC) bought before the removal of charges?
Refunds for unexpired certificates sold before April 1 are only available in exceptional circumstances.
Do I still need a maternity exemption certificate?
Yes, but only for dental treatment.