Campaigners have called on the prime minister to set a clear timetable for carrying out his promise to provide free prescriptions for all people with long-term conditions.
The campaign was launched on 1 April, the day people with cancer in England started to receive their prescriptions for free. On the same day, the price of a prescription rose by 10p to £7.20. It was also two years since all people in Wales began receiving their prescriptions for free. Charges for those in Scotland and Northern Ireland will be phased out by 2011.
The campaign was launched by the Prescription Charges Coalition, whose 18 members include charities such as Mind, Disability Alliance, Arthritis Care and The Stroke Association.
They want the prime minister to set a “clear timetable” to introduce free prescriptions for people with long-term conditions before the next election. At last year’s Labour Party conference in Manchester, the prime minister promised to abolish prescription charges for all people with long-term conditions “in the long term”. The Department of Health has said this would cost a maximum of £350 million a year.
A review of prescription charges is expected to report to the government this summer.
A MORI survey for Citizens Advice found around 800,000 people in England did not collect the prescriptions they needed in 2007 because they could not afford them. And research by Rethink in 2008 found 38 per cent of people with severe mental health problems had to choose between paying household bills and prescription charges.
The coalition’s members believe that providing free prescriptions would cut costs for the NHS, as people with long-term conditions would need to use fewer health services.
Neil Churchill, chief executive of Asthma UK and a spokesman for the coalition, said the abolition of prescription charges for people with cancer was “definitely a step in the right direction”.
But he added: “However, from today, millions of people with other long-term conditions will have to pay even more for their medicines, which many already cannot afford. This grossly unequal situation can result in people not getting the medicines they need to stay in good health and even ending up in hospital.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “There are a number of options for phasing in exemption from charges for people with long-term conditions.
“There are a number of people we need to involve in coming to a final decision on how to implement this proposal: we want to ensure that patients and patient groups, GPs and other clinicians, pharmacists, and others all input to the final proposals. We will make further announcements on this in due course.”
To sign a petition supporting the campaign, visit www.prescriptionpromise.org