Page last updated at 07:11 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 08:11 UK

Charity in free cancer drugs call

cancer screening
Many patients cannot afford the drugs needed for their care

Some cancer patients in Northern Ireland are forced to ration medication because they cannot afford it, a charity has said.

Macmillan Cancer Support said prescription charges were "a tax on illness" and should be abolished.

The charity has called for an update from Health Minister Michael McGimpsey on his review into the charges.

Heather Monteverde from Macmillan Cancer Support said patients should not have to give up drugs to save money.

She said the current prescription charging system which gives medical exemptions to some illnesses was devised 40 years ago.

"Patients tell me they are often spending up to several hundred pounds a year on prescriptions for drugs to cope with the side effects of cancer treatment," she said.

"The reality today is that we have very ill people asking their doctor which drugs they can do without so they can bring down the cost of their prescriptions.


"Macmillan believes that no one should have to pay for their prescriptions - it is a tax on illness and we are disappointed with the government's approach so far. "

Cancer patients usually need multiple prescriptions to ease the side effects of cancer treatment like nausea, fatigue, severe mouth ulcers and diarrhoea.

The Macmillan Cancer Support 2006 patient survey found that 9% (one in 10) of cancer patients aged under 55 years who incur costs for prescriptions charges are unable to pay for their prescriptions.

In Wales, prescription charges for cancer patients have been free since April 2007; in Scotland prescription charges are coming down to 5, whilst in England they are rising to 7.10.

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