Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Britain offers free prescriptions for cancer patients; advocates want other conditions covered

From AFP:

LONDON — Cancer patients can apply for free prescriptions from Jan. 20 but campaigners are urging the government to extend the scheme to all sufferers of long-term conditions.

Drugs for people undergoing cancer treatment, and for those suffering from the effects of the disease and its treatment, will be free from April 1. But patients can apply from today.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the initiative last year and it is expected to benefit up to 150,000 people already diagnosed with the illness.

"This new scheme gives people living with cancer one less worry at such a difficult time," public health minister Dawn Primarolo said.

Charges for medicines used to treat all long-term conditions have been eliminated in Wales and are being phased out in Scotland, prompting campaigners to demand the same exemptions in England.

"We are urging the government to drive forward plans to lift prescription charging for people with other long-term conditions, as set out by the Prime Minister last year," chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Peter Carter, said.

"The large surplus in the NHS could be spent on resolving anomalies and the unfair situation in which a patient with cancer has free prescriptions which a patient with multiple sclerosis may have to wait years for," he added.