Speaking yesterday at the Local Government Association conference in Harrogate, Yorkshire, Jeremy Hunt said the Department of Health will publish “the indicative medicine costs” to the National Health Service on packs of all medicines costing more than £20 ($31). They will also be marked “funded by the UK taxpayer.”
Hunt said the move “will not just reduce waste by reminding people of the cost of medicine, but also improve patient care by boosting adherence to drug regimes.”
‘No such thing as free’
Patients pay a flat rate of £8.20 ($12.80) in England for each prescription medicine, and remaining costs are funded by the state. There are payment exemptions for cancer medicines, contraception, and treatments administered in a hospital or doctor’s office. Over 60s, under 16s, pregnant women, and people with certain disabilities or receiving income support also do not pay for their prescriptions. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do not charge patients for prescribed medicines.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative government, re-elected in May, is carrying out a programme of public spending cuts intended to reduce the budget deficit, including a decrease in NHS funding.
Jeremy Hunt said in his speech the drug-labelling strategy is part of a plan to have the public take “more personal responsibility for use of precious public resources.”
“There is no such thing as a free health service,” he said, adding “wasted” medicines cost the country £300m ($468m) a year, and “people who use our services need to know that in the end they pay the price for this waste.”
Enthusiasm for the labelling plans was not shared by all the British public.
Twitter users asked the minister if the policy is intended to “shame” NHS patients, one suggesting, “Can we have labels on #NHS services showing how much profit has gone to corporations?”
Hunt said the Department of Health will implement the cost-labelling plan from next year.