On the second anniversary of the abolition of prescription charges in Wales, doctors in the country think it’s now time the scheme is extended to English patients.
Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh Secretary of the British Medical Association (BMA), believes this would be the fairest and simplest option, rather than the Department of Health’s plans to extend a list of exemptions.
Dr Lewis said: “It is ridiculous that for two years now patients in Wales have been able to visit their GP, without worry or fear of being able to meet the cost of any subsequent medication needed, when those same patients, who can be just a few miles across the border in England, have to pay an increased cost each year.”
One of those patients is Victoria Merredy, who lives in Dymock, Gloucestershire, just 10 miles from the Welsh border. The 18-year-old has to take regular medication for asthma, at a cost, from today, of £7.20 a time.
Ms Merredy said: “I do feel we have an unfair NHS operating in the UK now. Just because I live only a few miles outside of Wales, I have to pay £7.20 every time I need to pick up a prescription for my asthma, which is something I have to do on a regular basis.
“I can’t see why free prescriptions shouldn’t be made available in England. It seems even more unfair when you take into account the fact that my sister Lucy, who has exactly the same condition as me, gets her treatment for free because she lives in Wales.”
Dr Lewis added: “The current system in England seems totally unfair, when you have patients like Victoria, who may require medication over a prolonged period, yet are not exempt from this new list being drawn up by the Department of Health.
“It’s at this point that prescription charges can act as a disincentive to taking essential medication. Scrapping them altogether could have benefits to society as a whole, as well as for individuals. For example, it could reduce hospital admissions, and help people return to work more quickly following illness.
“It also makes sense to establish the policy in England for those patients living on the Welsh/English border, who at the moment, like Victoria, can be adversely affected by being a few miles outside of Wales. This just causes confusion and inconsistency for patients.”
Dr Lewis added: “The argument used by some critics of free prescriptions that millionaires are using them to pick up items like bonjela for free, doesn’t really stand up. Statistics show that almost a third (20.3 million) of prescription items dispensed in Wales are for cardiovascular treatment. A further 19% (11.5 million) are for the treatment of central nervous system disorders.
“We know that in Wales we have a high number of people with long-term illnesses and these figures reflect the fact that more preventative work is being undertaken, with GPs prescribing medicines which are helping people manage their chronic conditions and keeping them out of hospital, reducing the cost and pressure on the NHS. And that’s why I urge health chiefs in England to follow the example set by Wales”.
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“I think you’re missing the point. There is no longer a UK NHS. The four countries that make up the former UK have separate health systems. The real issue is that three of those countries can choose their health service while the fourth, England, cannot, because it is controlled by the British government, which is drawn from all four countries of the former UK. It makes decisions for the benefit of the UK, not England. For example, foundation hospitals were imposed on England by the votes of MPs from Scotland” – I Marcher, England