Fears as medicine charges pushed up

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HEALTh experts have warned that a Government decision to push up the cost of prescriptions could put lives at risk.

The Department of Health said yesterday costs will rise from April 1 to £7.40 per item from £7.20.

The move has come as a blow to campaigners, including the British Medical Association (BMA), who have been calling for charges to be scrapped altogether.

England is the only part of the UK still charging for prescriptions. They are free in Wales and Northern Ireland and will be free in Scotland from April 1.

The NHS in England nets more than £450m a year from prescription charges and last year the coalition shelved a report ordered by the previous Government into how charges for patients could be reduced.

Under yesterday’s announcement, an annual pre-payment certificate will remain at £104, but will rise to £29.10 for a three month certificate.

Dental charges for a band one course of treatment, such as a check-up, will increase by 50p from £16.50 to £17 while a band two course of treatment, including fillings and a root canal, will increase by £1.40, from £45.60 to £47. Band three treatment, such as dentures and bridges, will increase by £6 from £198 to £204.

Charges for elastic stockings and tights, wigs and fabric supports supplied by hospitals will be also be increased.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the Government was investing an extra £10.7bn in the NHS and releasing £1.7bn by cutting bureaucracy.

“The extensive exemption arrangements we have in place mean that in England, around 90 per cent of prescription items are already dispensed free of charge,” she said. “The price of the 12- month prescription pre-payment certificate will be frozen for the second year running. This allows people to get all the prescriptions they need for an average cost of £2 per week.

“Abolishing prescription charges in England would leave the NHS with a funding gap of over £450 m each year. This is valuable income – equivalent to the salary costs of nearly 18,000 nurses, or 15,000 midwives, or over 3,500 hospital consultants. This income helps the NHS to maintain vital services for patients.”

But Sue Sharpe, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, which represents community pharmacies in England and Wales, said: “Pharmacists already see some patients having to make difficult choices about their prescription medicines because they can’t afford the charge. This is unacceptable, but we’re only going to see more of it now.”

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), said: “The BMA understands that we live in financially difficult times, but this is a tax on the sick that contributes only a modest amount to the NHS is budget and does not offset the unfair disadvantage of asking the ill to pay for their medicine.”

Asthma UK chief executive Neil Churchill said the increase was “potentially life-threatening”.