After news yesterday that PM Gordon Brown’s plans to give cancer patients in England free prescriptions will not be automatically extended to Northern Ireland , it has emerged that NI Health Minister Michael McGimpsey is to publish fresh proposals on prescription charges.Mr McGimpsey said today that he would have moved earlier on his review of prescription charges had the NI Executive met during the summer.
He was responding to the PM’s speech on Tuesday when Mr Brown said prescription charges for cancer patients in England would be scrapped.
Mr McGimpsey said: “I have a review, I’m in a position to go forward with that review and I will publish it and I will indicate my proposals at a very early stage.”
He was speaking at the sod-cutting ceremony for a new £140m critical care unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital on Wednesday.
Gordon Brown made his announcement as one of a number of populist policies in a bid to revive Labour’s fortunes.
As he battles to rescue his premiership in a make-or-break conference speech he announced plans to scrap drug charges for all cancer patients and, eventually, for long term chronic illnesses.
He also said that around a million households will get up to £700 to pay for computers, broadband, software and technical support – an initiative designed to make plain that only Labour will “give everyone a chance”.
But the pioneering plans will only be extended to Northern Ireland if the Assembly’s Executive decides to adopt Mr McGimpsey’s plans – and also pay for the measures.
Meanwhile, a cancer charity has already been calling for the prescription charges to be scrapped.
McMillan Cancer Support wants to assist over 50,000 people in the Province currently diagnosed with the illness.
Their move follows an announcement by the Scottish Government that it plans to phase out all prescription charges by 2011. Prescriptions are already free in Wales.
Heather Monteverde from Macmillan Cancer Support in Northern Ireland believes it is time the Province followed Britain’s lead.
“On taking office last May our Health Minister Michael McGimpsey promised to review the situation in Northern Ireland and there has since been a consultation on the subject,” she said.
“What we need now is action from the Minister to bring Northern Ireland into line with the other UK regions. We want to see prescription charges dropped for cancer patients here too.
“We believe it is morally wrong for cancer patients in Northern Ireland – and there are more than 50,000 people living with cancer here – to pay for their prescriptions when patients in the rest of UK don’t have to,” she added.