Budget Special: Doctors call for review as charges rise by 15p

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Doctors and pharmacists reiterated their call for a fundamental review of "unfair" prescription charges after the Department of Health revealed they were set to rise by another 15p.

From 1 April 1997 the total charge for an NHS prescription will be pounds 5.65. A four-monthly prepayment certificate will increase by 80p to pounds 29.30 and an annual certificate will now cost pounds 80.50, a rise of 2.7 per cent.

Free medicines will remain for children, pensioners, people on income support, family credit or disability working allowance and their partners.

The BMA said it "regretted" the Government's decision to raise the prescription charge and called for the system to be thoroughly overhauled "rather than a drip, drip raise".

And the Royal Pharmaceutical Society warned that the raise would increase the number of people on low incomes who failed to take medicine prescribed by their GPs.

When the Conservatives came to power in 1979 they promised that prescriptions would not be raised above 20p. However charges have risen steadily since then and in the last two years alone the Tories have raised the charge by 25p and 50p. More than 50 per cent of all prescribed medicines cost less than the prescription charge, leaving a balance which is fed into NHS coffers to subsidise the 80 per cent of prescriptions that are free.

Ian Caldwell, president of the RPS, said: "As pharmacists we spend our professional lives helping patients to take their medicines in the right way so that they will work to the best effect. But if people who have medicines prescribed for them simply cannot afford to pay for them then the professional care that they have received through the NHS is effectively wasted."

He joined the BMA in calling for a review of the current system which he described as "anachronistic, inconsistent in its application and widely perceived as unfair".

Wigs and fabric supports will increase by 2.7 per cent and the maximum charge for a course of dental treatment will increase from pounds 325 to pounds 330. All optical voucher values will also increase by 2 per cent.