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Prescription charge exemptions debated in Parliament

By News team

Concerns that people in England with long-term conditions are not collecting their prescriptions because of the cost were raised in Parliament by Liberal Democrat MP Sir Bob Russell last week (10 July 2013).

Speaking during an adjournment debate, Sir Bob said: "We should rejoice at the wonderful advances in medical science which have enhanced the quality of life of people with serious health conditions [but] it is astonishing that . . . successive Governments have not moved forward when it comes to helping people [in England] with serious health conditions to pay for prescriptions."Sir Bob highlighted the Prescription Charges Coalition’s call for "free prescriptions for those who need them to live". He said: "It is a matter of considerable concern that many people with long-term conditions are not collecting or taking their medicines effectively because of the cost, as is all too clearly illustrated in the Prescription Charges Coalition’s recent report "Paying the price"." The coalition surveyed almost 4,000 patients with long-term conditions and found that 35 per cent who paid for their prescriptions had not collected medicines due to cost.

Most prescription items are dispensed free of charge

However, pointing out that about 60 per cent of people in England are exempt from charges, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health Anna Soubry responded: "A wide range of exemptions exist to help the most vulnerable, those requiring prescriptions the most and those most in need of support. In 2011, for example, about 94 per cent of all prescription items were dispensed free of charge."

She added: "The simple truth is that making prescriptions free for all in [Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland] has taken money away from other areas of their health budget. We have decided to spend our allocation of money in a different way, and rightly so, especially when we consider that the prepayment certificate of £104 a year is eminently fair for people who are unfortunate enough to have long-term conditions."

Sir Bob also proposed scrapping the 28-day prescribing limit for those with stable, long-term conditions on regular maintenance medication, saying: "I hope that the new clinical commissioning groups will consider carefully the need for individual prescribing for optimal treatment plans and avoid the rigid 28-day limit." He asked for "central guidance from the Department of Health".

Ms Soubry pointed out that doctors can prescribe flexibly and take decisions about prescribing patterns on the basis of a patient’s need. "Ultimately the decision must be left to the doctor, but guidance has been issued by the National Prescribing Centre about prescription terms, encouraging prescribers to be receptive to the needs of patients and to use appropriate prescribing patterns," she added.

A Prescription Charges Coalition spokeswoman told PJ Online: "Millions of people with long-term conditions in England who are struggling to afford prescription charges for their ongoing medication will be disappointed to hear there is "no money" to implement the reform they would find priceless." She added: "We welcome the minister’s acknowledgement that three-quarters of working age people with long-term conditions are believed to be paying for their prescriptions and her recognition that the current system of charges is ‘imperfect’ and that there is a lack of data to inform policy in this area."

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2013.11123371

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