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Prescription charges may be abolished gradually

By Claire Regan

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey could consider scrapping prescription charges by reducing their cost gradually over a number of years, as already done in Wales.

The Department of Health has confirmed that it is hoping the work of a review team set up to look into the cost and benefits of abolishing prescription charges in Northern Ireland will be completed by the end of the year.

A spokesman for the Department said there would then be a wider consultation on the matter before the minister brings his proposals to the Executive.

The Belfast Telegraph launched the Prescriptions: Free For All campaign in April to call on the Assembly to address the matter of charges urgently.

The out-dated list of 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 list of exempt conditions to be overhauled.

When asked for an update on how the review was progressing by the Belfast Telegraph, the Department said a group had been established, including representation from the "key stakeholders", including GPs, pharmacists and patients.

" There is also representation from the Health and Social Care system, the Central Services Agency and from the Department. The group will act as a 'project board' to oversee the review, which is being conducted by a small joint Department/HSC team," he said.

"The work is complex, covering an area with significant sensitivities and considerable public, professional and political interest. It will also be comprehensive, and have regard to experience, thinking and practice on prescription charging in England, Wales and Scotland, as well as relevant developments farther afield."

The spokesman said a range of options were being considered, including eliminating charging by annual reduction, as in Wales and proposed for Scotland, and reviewing and widening the range of medical conditions and social circumstances which are currently exempt.

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