Ten Years of Free Prescriptions in Wales Considered Long-Term Investment

The Welsh health secretary has spoken on the decision to provide 10 years of free prescriptions for people in Wales, asserting that it is effectively a long-term investment in public health.

This policy was instigated back in April 2007, and Health Secretary Vaughan Gething asserts that it has been responsible for keeping healthy people out of hospital and reducing the overall costs to the NHS system.

And the expenses involved in the policy have proven to be relatively manageable, with the Welsh government stating that the £593 million cost of free prescriptions in 2015 was only £3 million more than when the policy was introduced.

But Conservative spokeswoman Angela Burns claims that the overall cost is still too high, and suggested that the general public should pay for medicine if they are in a financial position to do so.

Prescription charges had been frozen in Wales in 2001 and also made free for those aged under 25 at this time.

But the charge was subsequently abolished completely in 2007, with Northern Ireland adopting this approach in 2010, and Scotland following suit just one year later.

Gething suggested that free prescriptions were a central pillar of what the NHS represents in Wales.

“This is a progressive and an integral part of our health services in Wales. It should never be the case that people with serious chronic conditions can not afford to collect their prescription. Ensuring patients have the medication they need not only improves their own health and wellbeing, it also benefits the health service as a whole by reducing hospital attendance and placing fewer demands on general practitioners.”

But the aforementioned Burns claims that the cost of free prescriptions has escalated by approximately 40% since it was first proposed in 2000.

The Conservatives believe that targeted spending would be more effective, and that people who can afford to pay for prescriptions are effectively abusing the system.

“The NHS should not be treated like a buffet cart. We need a more just and affordable model. It cannot be right that £5.1m was last year spent on paracetamol alone – which can be bought for mere pennies in supermarkets – while some patients were denied potentially life-saving cancer medication on the basis of cost,” Burns asserted.

Burns suggested that the government should deliver a different approach to this policy that was far more means-tested.

“People who can afford to pay for their medicine should pay, while those who cannot afford to pay, or live with long-term chronic conditions, should still be able to benefit from free medicine.”

However, Plaid Cymru AM Dr Dai Lloyd has indicated his support for the approach, noting the similar success is already experienced in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“This policy frees up NHS resources away from the bureaucracy required to administer a means-tested system as in England. The fact that Northern Ireland and Scotland have also introduced free prescriptions following Wales demonstrates this has been a successful policy”.


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