Doctors call for end to prescription charges

The Government should abolish prescription charges for all patients in England as the current system is unfair on many people, doctors' leaders said today.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the Department of Health (DoH) should follow the examples of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where prescriptions are either free or will become so in the next couple of years.

At the moment, some groups, such as pregnant women, those on benefits or low incomes and those suffering from certain conditions, are exempt from the 7.10-pound charge, which the government said on today would rise by 10 pence from 1 April.

The DoH is currently reviewing which long-term conditions should be included in this category and plans to extend the exemption to those patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer.

But the BMA said the whole "outdated, iniquitous" system needed a total overhaul.

"Free prescriptions for people with long-term conditions is a laudable aim, but it does not go far enough," said BMA Chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum.

"The system we have at the moment isn't working and is unfair on many patients. Abolishing prescription charges altogether is the fairest and simplest option."

The government said that currently only 11 per cent of prescriptions were paid for, and that provided vital income for the health service.

It said its planned changes to exempt cancer patients would benefit 150,000 people and a review would consider how other patients will long-term conditions could be helped.

But the BMA said the changes would create a "new set of arbitrary 'winners' and 'losers'" and could deter some people from taking the medication they needed.

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