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Charging and Prescriptions

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2006

The Government published on 17 October their response to the recent review of NHS charges by the Health Committee, which set out our plans for a review of prescription charges and exemptions. We will report the outcome of the review to Parliament before the 2007 summer recess.

Although I welcome the forthcoming review—the present system of prescription charges is quite arbitrary and the list of exemptions for asthma, for example, was compiled in 1968 and despite vast improvements in medical science has not changed since—will the Minister give an undertaking that the review of prescription charges will be transparent and that its findings will be published for all to see?

I can give the hon. Lady that commitment. She makes a reasonable point and I accept that the costs for people who need repeat prescriptions can be extremely high. In response to the Health Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), we said last week that we would introduce a monthly direct debit system for patients who have a pre-payment certificate, costing £7.95 a month. That is £2 a week and is an improvement, but I recognise that we have further to go. The hon. Lady is right to say that it is hard to see the logic on which the list of exemptions is based and any review should look into it further. Any changes should be cost-neutral to the NHS overall, but I acknowledge her point.

It is not just a matter of being cost-neutral; can the Minister assure us that the proposals will be evidence-based?

My right hon. Friend knows that the Department of Health specialises in precisely that sort of rigour and I am sure that it will be followed in this particular instance.