Prescription charges come into effect

HSE criticised for lack of communication over new levy

The Health Service Executive (HSE) failed to ensure medical card patients were aware of the new prescription charges according to the head of the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU).

The new levy, which will apply to dental prescriptions under the medical card scheme, came into force on 1 October and means that patients will have to pay 50 cents for every item up to a €10 a month cap per individual or family.

Darren O’Loughlin, President of the IPU, said that pharmacists are opposed to the new levy – which is expected to raise around €24 million a year – but that they are legally obliged to collect it on behalf of the HSE.

“This levy has faded from the public consciousness since it was first announced in last year’s budget,” he said. “The HSE has not run an adequate public information campaign to ensure that medical card patients would be alerted to the imposition of this charge, something which we believe should have happened long before now. ”

“We agree with the Minister for Health and Children that the wastage of medicines is a problem; however, we don’t believe that imposing a levy on prescription medicines for medical card holders is the best way to tackle it. Prescription charges have been abolished in many other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland and Wales.”

“This levy will cause hardship to many patients, particularly the homeless and those living in sheltered accommodation, and may even prevent certain patients from taking their medicines entirely. We would call on the Minister for Health and Children to exempt certain patient groups from paying the levy, including homeless patients, patients in sheltered accommodation and patients in nursing homes.”

And Labour health spokesman Jan O’Sullivan said the new levy could be increased at any time by Minister for Health Mary Harney “with the stroke of a pen”.

“This may not look like a big amount to the Minister and her advisers, but it is another hole in the budgets of those who have to live on €196 per week, including disabled, blind unemployed and widowed people,” she said.

“International evidence on the impact of a prescription levy indicates that it places a financial barrier on the poorest in the community in terms of accessing vital medicines and has a negative effect on the health of the population. Because of this, they have been abolished in a number of countries including Northern Ireland and Wales.”

Further information on the new charges is available at http://www.hse.ie/go/50c or by calling 1890 252 919.