The current system of charging some patients while leaving others exempt is risking health and creating an arbitrary system of “winners and losers”, according to a doctors’ group.
Ministers should follow the example of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland by making prescriptions free for everyone, the British Medical Association (BMA) says.
It expressed concern that charging could put some people off taking medication necessary for their wellbeing.
The statement comes amid an ongoing review of prescription payments, with a view to extending the list of conditions currently exempt from payment.
Those currently exempt include people with type 1 diabetes, hypoparathyroidism, a permanent fistula like a colostomy which requires surgical dressing, and epilepsy that require continuous medication.
Over 60s, under-16s, full-time students aged 16 to 18, people on benefits and pregnant women are also exempt. And disabled people who cannot go out without help, NHS inpatients and people on certain benefits do not have to pay either.
From next month, cancer patients will also get free prescriptions, even for medication not related to their disease.
In a submission to the government calling for all remaining charges to be scrapped, the BMA said that extending the current list of exemptions without a fundamental overhaul of the whole system would simply “create a new set of arbitrary ‘winners and losers'”, while labelling the current system “outdated, iniquitous, and detrimental to the health of many patients”.
Dr Beth McCarron-Nash, negotiator of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, said: “I have concerns if the relationship of trust is unduly influenced by commercialism. I have huge concerns about the ethical dilemma faced by doctors.”
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Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
“Whilst prescription charges are ridiculously high and do put people off taking medication, as a manager who has owrked in general practice for seven years, I avoid prescription medication, there should be a fairer system of charging rather than scrapping charges altogether as the NHS cannot take on more debt” – Rashda Shanaz, Birmingham
“Prescription charge is an unfair health tax. I pay 40% tax rate and national insurance, which I understand is used to found the NHS. Why should I pay prescription charge? I will vote for any party that pleges to scrap prescription charges in England at the next election” – Dr E O Eke, Southend
“Yes I definitely think that we should not pay for prescriptions. If Wales and Scotland do not why should we?” – Elizabeth Harrison, Birmingham
“It would be nice, but whilst a doctor’s average salary is over five times the national average, I suspect funding for such a venture would prove impossible. I doubt the BMA would comment on that though …” – Seb, London