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The system of free NHS prescriptions is “outdated, iniquitous, and detrimental to the health of many patients”, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).
It predicts an arbitrary system of “winners and losers” if England does not follow Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and make prescriptions free for everyone.
The list of people exempt from payment includes over-60s, under-16s, 16 to 18-year-olds in full-time education, benefit claimants, pregnant women, the disabled who cannot go out without help, and NHS inpatients.
Exempt conditions include type 1 diabetes, hypoparathyroidism, a permanent fistula like a colostomy, and epilepsy that requires continuous medication.
The BMA has said that in the current worsening recession, those who are not exempt but are under financial pressure may risk their health by not buying drugs that they have been prescribed.
In an earlier briefing paper, it says that “the anomalous position of the exemption applying to all prescribed items for patients in the ‘chronic sick’ list continues to pose problems for doctors with other more deserving patients who have to pay charges for the same drugs.
“For example, the system allows a diabetic with chronic bronchitis to be exempt from all charges whilst a chronic bronchitic with heart failure must pay for all prescriptions,” the paper adds.
Copyright Press Association 2009