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Northern Ireland unveils plans to reintroduce prescription charges

Northern Ireland Reintroducing prescription charges in Northern Ireland is being considered to solve the "shortfall" in drugs funding, health minister Edwin Poots has announced.

Reintroducing prescription charges in Northern Ireland is being considered to solve the "shortfall" in drugs funding, health minister Edwin Poots has announced.

Prescription charges were one of a "range of options" the government was considering as a future source of drugs funding, Mr Poots told the Northern Ireland Assembly on December 12.

The charges had been abolished under former health minister Michael McGimpsey in April 2010, but plans to reintroduce a charge for some patients would be consulted on in the new year, Mr Poots said.

The announcement followed widespread concerns over pharmacy funding, which was cut by a third earlier this year.

Mr Poots said introducing a prescription charge could help address "the gap in access to cost-effective, evidence-based therapies in Northern Ireland".

"However, those drugs will need to be paid for in future years, and that is the reality we face," he said.

Mr Poots stressed that, under the plans, a "small prescription charge" would only apply to 11 per cent of all prescriptions.

"If such a charge were reintroduced, it would not be done to bolster in some way other aspects of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety budget, but to specifically meet our requirements to buy NICE-approved drugs and perhaps have the ability to buy further drugs… for specific cases," he explained.

Mr Poots said he would launch a public consultation on the plans in "early" 2012.

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