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Prescription charging ‘has limits’ article argues

23 June 2014

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NHS prescription charges should be abolished if charging “dissuades” some people from taking up treatment, a BMJ article has claimed. 

John Appleby, chief economist at healthcare thinktank the King’s Fund looked into whether charging for prescriptions is helping or harming the NHS. 

England is the only country in the UK to charge patients for their prescriptions. 

The latest research shows that the number of pharmaceutical items prescribed in England has reached its highest ever level – over one billion in 2012 – an increase of 62% since 2002. 

However, only 10% of prescribed items are charged because of exemptions. 

Also, the cost of drugs has been steadily falling since 2004, partly because of greater use of generic drugs instead of branded drugs. 

But as charges for an increasing number of drugs start to exceed their price – and especially for prescribed drugs out of patent that can be bought over the counter – “increasingly it looks as though there are limits to future charging increases in charges,” he writes.

Although charging does raise money for the NHS – estimated at up to £700m in 2012 – Appleby suggests that abolishing charges may be worth it “if charging dissuades some people from seeking care or cashing in prescriptions, increasing their risk of needing emergency treatment in the future.”

Yet a study in Wales found that making prescriptions free for everyone seems to have no effect on access to and take up of care and treatment.

The full article is available to view on the BMJ website