The prescription charge in England should be axed and is an unfair tax in all but name, according to the influential journal the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB).
England is now the only one of the four UK countries that has not already scrapped the charge or plans to do so by April 2011.
The DTB editorial argues that, contrary to popular belief, the £7.20 currently levied on prescription medicines does not directly reflect the cost of the drug prescribed and does not specifically fund health services. The charge is for raising general tax revenue, it says.
The charge, which has been or is in the process of being abolished in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, means that a key argument put forward for its retention - namely that it reminds people of the cost of medicines, and acts as a deterrent to overuse prescription services - is now ringing hollow, says the journal.
“Why only people in England need such a reminder is far from clear,” says the editorial.
Those who support the charge argue that many people are exempt, but the DTB argues that these exemptions are illogical and so confusing that even NHS Prescription Services is setting up an online quiz for healthcare professionals to test their knowledge about whom they should and should not be charging.
“One concern voiced about the possibility of free prescriptions for all in England is that it might encourage patients to demand medicines of dubious value,” says the editorial, which argues that if there is such a weak case for using products, they should not be available for prescription in the NHS.
“The prescription charge in England is a poorly conceived, manifestly unfair tax that shames the NHS and Department of Health. It needs to go.”
Only in England: editorial DTB Vol 47 No 7 July 2009