January 20, 2009 / 1:01 PM / 9 years ago

Free drugs scheme for English cancer patients

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Patients suffering from cancer can apply for free drugs prescriptions in England from Tuesday, the Department of Health said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised the 15 million pound ($21.07 million) move last September in a speech to the Labor Party Conference. It follows similar schemes in place or being introduced in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The change is expected to benefit up to 150,000 patients who will save an average of 100 pounds each in charges.

Cancer patients will no longer have to pay the 7.10 pounds prescription fee for their drugs from April 1.

From Tuesday, they can apply for a 5-year exemption certificate which will give them free access to all NHS prescriptions, not just those relating to cancer.

Applications received by March 24 will be processed in time for the April 1 start date.

"This was absolutely the right thing to do," said Macmillan Cancer Support Chief Executive Ciaran Devane.

"Free prescriptions will transform the lives of thousands of people living with cancer who were struggling to pay for drugs."

The government plans to extend the free prescriptions program to all five million patients suffering long-term conditions.

Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, is conducting a consultation on how to achieve this and is expected to report back in the summer.

Nearly 90 percent of all prescription items are already dispensed without charge, the Department of Health said.

Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Steve Addison

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