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Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Welsh doctors call for free prescriptions for English patients

On the second anniversary of the abolition of prescription charges in Wales, I now think it’s high time the scheme is extended to English patients. This surely would be the fairest and simplest option, rather than the Department of Health’s plans to extend a list of exemptions.

It seems 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, from today, £7.20 a time.

I know of one person (and there will be dozens more I’m sure) who lives in Dymock, Gloucestershire, just 10 miles from the Welsh border. This person has to take regular medication for asthma, so is adversely affected by being a few miles outside of Wales. This just causes confusion and inconsistency. This individual is also on a low wage, but not “low” enough to be included in the list of exemptions being drawn up. And that’s why I think abolishing prescription charges altogether is the best way forward, just becoming a disincentive to taking essential medication for those struggling to make ends meet.

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.

And 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. 1

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.

1 Source – Statistics for Wales – prescriptions by General Medical Practitioners in Wales 2007-08 (

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