THE BLOG
25/10/2013 10:24 BST | Updated 25/12/2013 05:12 GMT

Should England Follow Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in abolishing prescription charges?

Prescriptions have been free in some countries within the United Kingdom for a number of years, however with budget cuts, should NHS prescription charges be abolished in England? When the NHS was formed in 1948 it was revolutionary in the sense that people could visit a doctor, get prescription spectacles and medication without having to worry about how it would be paid for. The NHS was created at a time when Britain and the world was recovering from the Second World War.When it was announced in 1951 that NHS patients would have to pay for a prescription, the then Health Minister Nye Bevan resigned from his post.

At the moment people who are unemployed, on tax credits, on sickness benefits or long-term disabled are entitled to free prescriptions. However working people on a low middle income who are not eligible for any benefits, have to pay £7.85 for a prescription. If somebody works but has a long-term illness then prescription costs can quickly add up.

There are schemes in place to allow people who need several medicines to buy a pre-paid prescription certificate. For a charge of approximately £10.40 per month one would be able to use the PPC to get as much medication as one wanted from a pharmacy. This is the obviously way for those with long-term illnesses to save money.

However with most people in the UK having to cut back their own budget, should prescription charges be free for everybody in England? Citizens of Wales - the place where the Father of the NHS was born - have been able to enjoy free prescriptions since 2007. Similarly, in Scotland charges were abolished in 2011 and in Northern Ireland there have been no charges since 2010.

I asked the Department for Health:

1 - How many people in England have a long term health condition which requires medication?

2 - How much it would cost the government / taxpayer to allow those with long term health problems to receive free prescriptions?

3 - How many people in England currently qualify for free prescriptions?

4 - How many people in England do not qualify for free prescriptions?

5 - How much did NHS England make from prescription fees?

(cost to cover the medication, plus profit made if applicable)

ANSWERS:

1)

In 2010, the Department stated that there are 15.4 million people in England (children, adults and older people) with at least one LTC.

In addition, a more recent (25 March 2013) Department statement says that 'In England, more than 15 million people have a long term condition...'.

2)

The Department does not hold an estimate for the cost of providing exemptions to those with a long term condition.

The report for the Secretary of State for Health by Professor Sir Ian Gilmore on implementing exemption from prescription charges for people with long term conditions provided an estimate of the loss from extending exemption to those captured by the recommendations from his review. This document was published in May 2010, and is available by clicking here.

3) and 4)

The above-quoted report by Professor Sir Ian Gilmore stated that 60% of the population in England were exempt from prescription charges in 2009.

5)

Revenue collected from the sale of prescription pre-payment certificates and prescription charges paid for prescription items dispensed in community pharmacies in England is in the region of £450m per annum. (This does not include revenue realised from other routes of medicines supply for example; charges collected by hospitals for medicines supplied to outpatients). There is no link between the prescription charge and the cost to the NHS of the medicine, or the cost to the NHS of providing dispensing services. The primary care drugs bill for 2011-2012 was £8,251 million. Expenditure on NHS community pharmacy services (which includes dispensing services) in 2011-2012 was £2,026 million.

According to data, it is estimated that fraud arising from prescription charges costs the NHS approximately £100 million per year. But because many pharmacies do not ask for evidence that a somebody is entitled to free prescriptions, many have avoided paying the charge. The investigations branch is poor at investigating cases which have been highlighted at possibly fraudulent and as tens of millions of pounds is being lost at a time when there are budget cuts.

But £104 per year is a lot of money for working people on low incomes, therefore should prescriptions be free at the point of need for everybody in England?

You can vote here: http://t.co/iMrLlMwGrc