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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 16:48 GMT
AMs vote for free prescriptions
GP writing a prescription
Some patients in Wales already qualify for free prescriptions
Free prescriptions for everyone are to be introduced in Wales from 1 April following a vote in the Welsh assembly.

AMs voted by 39 to none to abolish the charges. Labour and Plaid Cymru supported the move while Conservatives and Liberal Democrats abstained.

The move was approved despite manufacturers earlier warning it could lead to drugs going to waste and funding for new medicines being lost.

It fulfils an assembly government pledge of free prescriptions by 2007.

Last year the price of prescriptions in Wales dropped from 4 to 3, while it rose to 6.65 in England.

The Welsh Assembly Government has said the scheme, while is expected to cost 29.5m in the first year, will reduce patient inequality.

Quality of life

Welsh Health Minister Brian Gibbons said that free prescriptions would particularly benefit those people with chronic illnesses or on low incomes.

He said: "The main reason for providing free prescriptions was to ensure people are not put off getting medication they need due to cost.

"This will therefore enable those people who need medication to get it to improve their health and ultimately their quality of life."

Dr Gibbons said the scheme would remove unfairness surrounding the currently-used 1968 exemption system where a diabetes patient automatically gets all prescriptions free while a cystic fibrosis sufferer does not.

Patients registered with a Welsh GP or Welsh patients who have an English GP with an accompanying entitlement card who get their prescriptions from a Welsh pharmacist will not have to pay for their drugs from April.

'Detrimental impact'

Dr Gibbons stressed the free prescription policy only applies to prescribed drugs.

"Where patients already buy non-prescription medication over the counter they should continue to do so in the normal way," he said.

"If patients change their behaviour radically this could have a detrimental impact on the NHS as a whole and indirectly on those patients who are in most need of the free prescriptions."

Before Tuesday's vote the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said that if free prescriptions were introduced, demand for medicines may increase.

It also warned that there was a risk of drugs going to waste.

Director Richard Greville said: "Increasing demand on the medicines budget will mean newer, more innovative medicines will be even more difficult to access for patients in Wales.

"We do hope that the government will ensure that there'll be appropriate funding for this new policy," he added.




SEE ALSO
Patients pay English drug charges
10 Apr 06 |  South East Wales

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