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Copayments decision offers positive way forward, says BMA

5 November 2008

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The government’s announcement on copayments offers a practical way of balancing the rights of patients with the values of equality on which the NHS is based, says the British Medical Association (BMA), which has nonetheless called for a wider public debate about the scope of a publicly funded healthcare system.

Commenting on yesterday’s report, Improving access to medicines for NHS patients, Dr Hamish Meldrum (pictured), BMA chairman, said: “It was morally wrong that people who self-funded part of their treatment were denied their right to free NHS care and I have great sympathy for the patients and their families who find themselves facing these terrible dilemmas.

“The key challenge was always going to be to avoid the creation of a two-tier system where some NHS patients receive inferior treatment to others because they cannot afford to ‘top-up’.

Dr Meldrum described the announcement to lift the ban on additional private drugs in England as “sensible”.

He said: “The clarity that ‘top-up’ treatments will ideally need to be properly costed, provided privately and separately from NHS care, and that they will not involve NHS staff, is welcome.

“In reality, however, this whole debate is part of a much wider one about the future of healthcare provision in England. As new, expensive drugs become available, and the population ages, it is increasingly important that society recognises that there are very real limits to what the NHS can and cannot do. The public, politicians and the medical profession must be fully involved in these discussions.”

Dr Stephen Austin, Chairman of the BMA’s Consultants Committee in Northern Ireland, said that the association would be lobbying the Northern Ireland government to go down the same route. “This is good news for patients in England but Northern Ireland needs a similar decision,” he said.