Saturday, 16 October 2010

Statement on free prescriptions from the Health Minister

Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey said today that it was unfair and wrong to suggest that free prescriptions for items such as sun-cream should not be dispensed.

He said: “Items such as high factor sun-screen are only dispensed following a clinical decision by a doctor. These sun-screens are normally dispensed to treat people because they may be undergoing radiotherapy, or have certain genetic conditions or suffer from photo sensitivity all of which can make their skin much more sensitive to sunlight.

“In addition, some medications can also make the skin more sensitive to sunlight including some antibiotics and heart drugs. 

“I will not second-guess doctors or other medical experts who seek to ensure patients have vital medication which saves them from harm. I am very concerned that some people have tried to turn such a serious medical issue into a trivial headline.”

Turning to the introduction of free prescriptions the Minister said that he would continue to monitor dispensing volumes very carefully and asked the public to act responsibly when asking for medication.

He continued: “The reason I introduced free prescriptions in the first place was to remove the inequality that existed which meant that some people with serious illness, such as cancer, had to try and find the money to pay for their drugs. This was a tax on illness and I could not allow this situation to continue. 

“The fact is that in 2009/2010 prescription charges generated income of £6million, approximately 1.4% of the overall prescribing budget which is around £400million. 

“My Department and the Board are continuing to ensure that any issues of overprescribing and cost are being dealt with. Over the last five years, my Department has delivered some £90million of efficiencies in the prescribing budget and at the same time managed £3million additional prescriptions in 2009/10.” 

Continuing the Minister said that during this period the use of generic medicines has increased from 43% to 60% and that is an important way of managing drugs inflation. He said that he had also set in train a further range of initiatives through the Pharmaceutical Clinical Effectiveness Programme to improve medicines management in the Health and Social Care Service. 

He concluded: “It is too early to identify any additional costs associated with free prescribing in 2010-11 but this is being kept under review. It is important to note that the prescribing volumes increase by an average of 5% to 6% every year. It is wrong to say that all increases in prescription numbers are the result of free prescribing. 

“For example, issues such as rising numbers of older people with long-term conditions and the effects of the economic recession impact on prescribing rates.”

Notes for editors:

1. Media enquiries to the DHSSPS Press Office on 028 9052 0575. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.

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