Failure to back prescription charges will bring 'consequences for very sick'
Failure to reintroduce prescription charges in Northern Ireland could have consequences for seriously ill patients, the health minister has warned.
Simon Hamilton told Assembly members he did not envisage the controversial charge being brought back during the current political mandate but said those relying on expensive new medication may lose out.
He said: "I don't think, given the lack of political consensus, that there will be any reintroduction in terms of charges, certainly in my time as minister.
"But there will be consequences of that. Not having prescription charges; not having income that it will raise, is not something that would be without consequences in terms of paying for some of those very expensive new drugs and treatments that are out there.
"So, some may see some degree of success of not having prescription charges reintroduced but there will be consequences sometimes even for those who are very sick and relying on new drugs."
Mr Hamilton was speaking during Question Time at the Assembly.
Prescription charges were abolished in the region in 2010 and cost the cash-strapped Department of Health about £0.6 billion a year.
In February former health minister Jim Wells announced plans to raise between £5 million and £10 million through a "season ticket" type charging mechanism which could subsidise a specialist medicines fund.
The proposal, which was put out for public consultation, included a charge of about 50 pence or £1 or an annual subscription of £20 or £25, with revenue generated being used to buy drugs which are too expensive or too specific to be licensed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for general use.
A campaign to prevent the reintroduction of prescription charges has been ongoing.