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Battle for free cancer drugs in NI

By Matthew McCreary

Northern Ireland’s Executive has been urged to “get on with it” to ensure cancer sufferers in Northern Ireland are not left out in the cold over prescription charges.

Yesterday’s decision from Prime Minister Gordon Brown that drugs charges for cancer patients in England are to be abolished means Northern Ireland is now the only area of the UK which has not announced that the fees for cancer patients will be scrapped.

The Prime Minister’s plans will not extend to Northern Ireland without the agreement of the Stormont Assembly, which is currently deadlocked amid political in-fighting and whose executive has not met in several months.

Deputy SDLP leader and south Belfast GP Dr Alasdair McDonnell, who was in Manchester for the PM’s speech yesterday, said: “I believe that this is a good announcement.

“I would urge the Health Minister to bring this forward in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.”

“I would urge the Executive to get on with it.

“People suffering from cancer are usually short of funds and this is a small gesture in the right direction to make their life a little easier.

“I think the onus now is to urge the Executive to get on with this. If Gordon Brown can do it then we should be able to do it in Northern Ireland.”

Alliance Party leader David Ford said: “It’s a further example of action that could be taken in Northern Ireland if the Executive would get its act together, alongside the fuel crisis and other issues which affect people’s lives.

“The Executive must meet and start taking decisions.”

Heather Monteverde from charity Macmillan Cancer Support in Northern Ireland welcomed the decision to drop charges for people with cancer in England, but said: “Unfortunately this leaves Northern Ireland behind, as Wales scrapped charges for everyone last April and Scotland is in the process of phasing them out.

“On taking office last May, Health Minister Michael McGimpsey promised to review the situation and there has since been a consultation.”

“What we need is action from the Minister to bring Northern Ireland into line with the other regions. We want to see prescription charges dropped for cancer patients here too. It is morally wrong for patients in Northern Ireland – and there are more than 50,000 people living with cancer here – to pay for their prescriptions when the rest of UK don’t have to.”

Last year the Belfast Telegraph launched the ‘Prescriptions: Free For All' campaign, calling for charges to be scrapped by the Assembly.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said last night: “I requested a review into the abolition of prescription charges in Northern Ireland because of the serious inequities and weaknesses in the current system that need to be addressed.

“It is deeply concerning to hear prescription charges deter some people from having their prescriptions dispensed, either in part or entirely. The long term costs for the Health Service would improve if patients were able to afford the medication to treat their condition.

“I have received the report from the review group, and am currently considering options for the future of prescription charges.”

Belfast Telegraph


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