Free Prescriptions Gets Green Light
Northern Ireland Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said the endorsement by the Executive for free prescriptions is a significant step towards abolishing an unfair system which charges people for vital medication.
The move follows the Minister's earlier announcement and means that prescriptions will be free of charge by April 2010.
He said: "When I announced my intention to end prescription charging in September, it was met with an overwhelmingly positive response. The approval today by the Executive is very welcome and will bring great comfort to thousands of people.
"For too many years, people in Northern Ireland have been living with a system which is inequitable and unjust and meant that one person's suffering is ranked above another's. It is simply unacceptable that people who have to cope with the burden of ill health should have the additional anxiety of trying to find the money to pay for much needed medication which they cannot afford. This is totally against the principles of the NHS which promises free health services to all.
"The introduction of free prescriptions was a commitment that I made in one of my earliest debates in the Assembly. My decision to introduce free prescriptions is also based on the hundreds of letters and calls I received from patients who were calling for relief from the unnecessary hardship of paying for prescriptions.
"The cost of prescription charging will be met from within the existing budgets. No existing services will suffer as a result of this decision. In addition, processes will be put in place to ensure that prescribing rates are kept within acceptable limits. Healthcare professionals must practise responsible prescribing and the public must play a part by only taking medication if they really need it."
The cost of a prescription will be reduced to only £3 in January 2009 and then will be free of charge by April 2010. Prepayment certificates will also come down in price, from £35.85 to £9 for four months and from £98.70 to £25 for 12 months until prescriptions are free.