Page last updated at 14:06 GMT, Tuesday, 23 September 2008 15:06 UK

Brown in free prescriptions vow

Prescription form
Prescriptions are already free in Wales

Patients with long-term conditions will get free prescriptions in England under plans announced by the prime minister.

Charges for cancer patients will be scrapped from next year with other conditions to follow afterwards, Gordon Brown told the Labour Party conference.

It comes after charges were scrapped in Wales last year and are in the process of being phased out in Scotland.

The cost of measure is expected to be paid for by making savings in the overall drugs budget.

Mr Brown said: "Because we know that almost every British family has been touched by cancer, (Health Secretary) Alan Johnson and I know we must do more to relieve the financial worry that so often goes alongside the heartache, so our plan is next year to abolish all prescription charges for everyone with cancer.

Cancer patients in England have been struggling to pay these unfair charges for too long
Ciaran Devane, of Macmillan Cancer Support

"And this is not the limit of our commitment to a fair NHS.

"In the long-term, as the NHS generates cash savings in its drugs budget, we will plough them back into abolishing charges for all patients with long-term conditions."

Savings are expected to be made by more bulk-buying of drugs and increased use of cheaper generic versions rather than branded ones.

In England, each prescription item costs 7.10 - although patients needing regular courses can pay a flat rate of 102.50 for a year's supply.

Charges raise over 400m for the NHS, but a range of exemptions are already in place meaning just 12% of prescriptions are currently paid for.

These exemptions already cover a few medical conditions such as epilepsy and some forms of diabetes as well as children, pensioners and those on low incomes.

Move welcomed

Ciaran Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "We are absolutely delighted the government has listened to us.

"Cancer patients in England have been struggling to pay these unfair charges for too long and it is great news that they will no longer face this added burden when they are fighting cancer."

It comes after a BBC poll of 1,000 people earlier this year found three quarters wanted prescriptions charges to end.

Mr Brown also talked about what the government had achieved with the NHS.

He praised the work done to cut MRSA infection rates and waiting times and the next year's introduction of a vascular screening programme for the over 40s.

And he told delegates he would protect the values of the NHS as he knew about the importance of free, universal health care as NHS doctors had saved the sight in his eye following a childhood accident.


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