Prescription charges set to rise
Prescriptions are set for yet another rise next month. It means that patients in England will have to pay £8.05 for every prescription - an extra 20p. And the government has confirmed that charges will rise again the following year by another 15p.
How can this be fair?
Why?The government announced that on 1 April prescription charges for patients in England will rise from £7.85 to £8.05. On 1st April 2015 they will rise again to £8.20. Dental charges will also be increasing.
The government defended higher prescription charges on the grounds that the cost of medicines is increasing. Since 2000 the NHS drugs bill has doubled.
Health minister Earl Howe said: "This government has made tough decisions to protect the NHS budget and increase it in real terms, but charges for some items remain an important source of revenue to support the delivery of high quality NHS services."
Not too bad?It could be much worse. Reform, a think-tank, suggested in November that prescription charges should rise to £10 and that some of the current exemptions should not apply. At the time it highlighted that the shortfall in NHS funding is likely to hit £30 billion in 2020, and that drastic steps need to be taken.
It's vital to remember that 90% of patients in England can still get their prescriptions for free. It means those on very low incomes, young children, the over 60s, and people with certain long-term illnesses can continue to be treated for free.
Unfair?However, there are others who highlight less fair aspects of the change. Charges have risen almost every year since 1979, and are now eight times higher - in real terms - than 30 years ago.
The Prescription Charges Coalition - which represents people with long term conditions who are not exempt from prescription charges - found that 35% of people had not picked up a prescription because of the cost.
It wrote in a blog this week that: "Thanks to ever-increasing prescription costs for the essential medication people with long-term conditions need to keep them well, or even alive, many are facing the stark choice between food, clothing, bills or their prescriptions."
It added: "These are people that already pay their national insurance contributions and now suddenly and unexpectedly need help from the NHS only to find that popular NHS mantras of 'free at the point of delivery', 'available to all' and 'based on clinical need rather than ability to pay' do not apply to them."
Then, of course, there's the fact that these charges only apply in England. Patients in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have received prescriptions free since 2010 or 2011, and will continue to get theirs free under policies by the devolved parliaments.