DOCTORS in Wales yesterday called for doctors’ prescriptions to be made free to all patients in England.
On the second anniversary of the abolition of prescription charges in Wales, Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh Secretary of the BMA, said extending free prescriptions to England was the best way forwards, rather than a new list of exemptions being drawn up by the Department of Health.
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.’
The BMA cited the example of Victoria Merredy, an 18-year-old patient in Gloucestershire, just across the border from Wales, who has to take regular medication for asthma, at a cost, from tomorrow, of £7.20 a time.
The young patient 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 am having 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: ‘Abolishing prescription charges altogether is the fairest and the simplest option.
‘As it stands at the moment, 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.
‘And again people whose incomes are low, like Victoria, but are just above the levels required to trigger exemptions, are also penalised.
‘It’s at this point that prescription charges can act as a disincentive to taking essential medication.’
Lewis said that scrapping prescription charges altogether ‘could have benefits to society as a whole, as well as for individuals.
‘For example,’ he said, ‘it could reduce hospital admissions, and help people return to work more quickly following illness.’
Dr Lewis also said: ‘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 per cent (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.’