Prescription charges would be abolished in England under a Labour government, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth announced at the Labour party conference at the weekend (21 September).
Labour would scrap the £9 per item charge in England, bringing it in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where prescription charges are free.
The announcement comes after the publication of a Government report on penalty charge notices in healthcare, which the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said was a ‘damning’ condemnation that the system is ‘not fit for purpose’.
Saving NHS money
‘We know that the cost of prescriptions puts people off taking the medicine they need,’ said Mr Ashworth.
‘Not only do people suffer illnesses and the effects of illnesses more than they need to but, in the long term, it costs the NHS more money because those people who don’t take their medicines present with even more serious conditions later on.’
The NHS could save £20 million a year if they lifted prescription charges for people with Parkinson’s and inflammatory bowel disease, according to the Prescription Charges Coalition.
The campaign group is made up of 48 organisations including the RPS that are calling on the Government to scrap prescription charges for people with long-term conditions in England.
Conditions such as asthma and chronic kidney disease are not on the prescription charges exemption list, while patients can also opt into the NHS prepayment discount scheme.
People with these long-term conditions can pay up to £104 a year for a prescription prepayment certificate.
‘A human right’
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn added: ‘Healthcare is a human right. People should not be forced to worry about the cost of their medicines.’
Responding to the report’s publication, RPS director for England Ravi Sharma repeated the membership body’s call for free prescriptions in England.
He said: ‘Prescription charges in England disproportionately penalise working people on low incomes. At a cost of £9 per item prescribed, pharmacists are familiar with patients presenting their prescription to ask ‘which one of these medicines can I do without?’
‘England should follow Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and offer free prescriptions to all patients, so they always have the medicines they need without having to make payment decisions.’