28. May 2010 16:52
The decision on whether to allow free prescriptions for certain patients will now be put on hold till the autumn, due to financial pressures.
A new report by Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians, has recommended that all patients with long-term conditions should be exempt from prescription charges.
However, Health Minister Simon Burns has said that a decision cannot be made until after the spending review in the autumn.
Gilmore suggests that eligibility for the scheme could be decided by doctors and that the changes could be phased in over three years to spread out the extra yearly £430 million cost to the NHS.
He told the BBC that the report “represents a useful way forward for exempting patients with long-term conditions from prescription charges”. He added: “The report outlines a way in which exemptions could be phased in in the fairest way possible when the financial landscape allows it.”
Commenting on the report, Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the BMA, described the current prescription charge system as “a mess”. He said: “Changes to the system short of abolition would still be unfair on the reduced number of patients who do not qualify for exemption.
“We really have to question whether the small financial benefit of retaining charges outweighs the many disadvantages of taxing the sick.”
Prescription charges have been completely abolished in Wales and Northern England and are currently being phased out in Scotland.