Wales was the first UK country to introduce the policy with Northern Ireland following suit in 2010 and Scotland in 2011.
Five years on, and supporters are still praising the system helping to tackle the legacy of ill health left behind by Wales’ industrial era.
Statistics show an increase in the number of drugs dispensed, for example, those to ease some cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, since the charges were scrapped. Previously many of these patients were not eligible for free prescriptions. This indicates patients with chronic conditions can now access life-saving medicines previously too expensive.
John Mathias, National Director Asthma UK Cymru, said:
“Five years since the introduction of free prescriptions, we are pleased that the 314,000 people with asthma in Wales are now able to take the medicines they need to manage their condition without having to pay for them.
“Asthma affects approximately 11 percent of the adult population of Wales and prior to the introduction of free prescriptions many of these people were telling us how worried they were about the financial burden of charges for potentially life saving medicines.
“Thankfully Wales has taken a lead in reducing this burden on people with asthma.”
Tina Donnelly, Director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, added her voice:
“The Royal College of Nursing in Wales has always supported the initiative to give patients and clients in Wales free NHS prescriptions.
“We know not everyone in Wales could afford to pay for prescriptions before five years ago. It is essential patients take their prescribed medication. People who suffer with long term chronic conditions such as heart disease, asthma, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis have benefitted from this scheme.”
The abolition of the charges has assisted the Welsh Government in its manifesto commitment to lift people out of poverty.
The Minister for Health and Social Services, Lesley Griffiths said:
“When we introduced free prescriptions, critics called it a gimmick. However, the fact is not only is the policy keeping more people healthy and out of hospital, it has had a significant effect on those whose incomes were just above the benefit level, for whom the full cost of prescriptions otherwise would have an immediate and detrimental impact on the difference between income in work and on benefits.
“By making prescription medicines available to all, we have removed this barrier to work, allowing people to manage their conditions and reducing the number of people admitted to hospital, and therefore lessening the burden on the NHS.”