The King's Fund welcomed today's Liberal Democrat pledge to review NHS prescription charges by insisting the current system is outdated, illogical and penalises poorer patients.
Responding to the Liberal Democrats' health manifesto, The King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:
'We strongly support calls for a major review of prescription charges - it is long overdue. We have a highly complex and irrational charging system for prescription drugs which is plagued by inconsistencies and unfairness.
'Any review would need to look at the list of exempt medical conditions, which still hasn't been updated since its inception in 1968. In particular, there is no justification for charging sufferers of some chronic medical conditions that need long-term medication, such as adults with cancer, asthma, multiple sclerosis or anyone with a mental health problem, for prescriptions. These are often the kinds of people who cannot afford the medicines they need and this can lead to further problems down the line in terms of unplanned hospital admissions.
'The King's Fund will later this year conduct its own review into prescription charges for people with long-term conditions. We want to review the fairness of the current arrangements and welcome the fact that the Liberal Democrats are also committed to cutting unfair health charges.'
The King's Fund also welcomed the Liberal Democrats' commitment to ending so-called hidden waiting lists.
'Too many people are on hidden waiting lists in this country and both of the other main political parties have recognised this', said Niall Dickson.
'The Liberal Democrats are right to target this but it's ambitious and will need heavy investment in diagnostic staff and equipment, more doctors, nurses and allied health professionals and greater use of the independent sector.'
Finally, commenting on the Liberal Democrats' manifesto pledge to implement the recommendations of the Sutherland Commission and introduce free personal care, Niall Dickson said:
'The King's Fund has got its own social care inquiry, led by Sir Derek Wanless, which is looking into this issue. It will look at the trends over the next 20 years that are likely to affect the demand for and nature of social care for older people in England, and consider how such social care might be funded. When this is finished in spring 2006 we should be able to have a much more informed debate on this issue."
Notes to editors:
1. For further information or interviews, please contact The King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
2. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through grants. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership and education courses; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.