Wales was the first health service in the UK to abolish prescription charges in 2007. The NHS in Scotland and Northern Ireland subsequently adopted the policy.
The following article, written by Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Health Vaughan Gething, initally appeared in the Western Mail newspaper:-
This weekend we marked the 10th anniversary of free prescriptions being available in Wales.
When we took the decision to abolish prescription charges back in 2007 it was in light of evidence that some people with serious chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart disease, could not afford their prescriptions so chose to have only part of the prescription dispensed. This reduced the cost but meant some people were going without medicines they needed to keep them well.
It is for that reason we chose to make a long-term investment to improve people’s health, and since then, prescription medicine has been provided free in Wales.
All patients registered with a Welsh GP who get their prescriptions from a pharmacist in Wales are eligible. But the GP is just one of a number of frontline clinical experts able to prescribe medication. Others include pharmacists and nurses: prescriptions issued by these are also free of charge.
I’m proud that we were the first of the home nations to take the step to introduce free prescriptions. I’m delighted that both Scotland and Northern Ireland followed our lead.
We firmly believe by providing people with the medication they need helps to keep them well and out of hospital, thereby reducing the overall cost to the NHS. It should never be the case that people with serious chronic conditions can not afford to collect their prescription.
Some have called for the reintroduction of prescription charges, but I simply don’t agree that is the right way forward. That said, our free prescription policy does not mean people should expect to have whatever they want prescribed by their GP; clinicians must make the right decisions about when and when not to prescribe. Where a medicine offers little or no clinical benefit it should not be used, this isn’t about free prescriptions it’s about good clinical practice.
Prescription charges and the system of exemptions which persist across the border in England are poorly conceived, illogical and manifestly unfair to some groups.
The re-introduction of charges would require the development of a new, fairer system. To maintain such a system would require a costly framework for determining who should not be charged, who may be exempt from charges and who may be entitled to full or part remission of charges
The costs associated with administering this fairer system and then safeguarding that system against misuse would reduce significantly any potential income derived from the re-introduction of a charging regime.
It would also negate the very real health benefits we believe Welsh citizens gain by removing ability to pay as a key consideration when an individual takes their prescription for dispensing.
So let’s be clear, the Welsh Government has no intention of reintroducing prescription charges.
Ensuring patients have the medication they need not only improves their own health and wellbeing, it also benefits the health service as a whole by reducing hospital attendance and placing fewer demands on general practitioners.
Free prescriptions are progressive and an integral part of our health services in Wales. I believe it is socially irresponsible to charge people with serious chronic conditions for the medication they need.
Health Secretary Vaughan Gething
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