Pharmacists and GPs are calling on the Government to begin phasing out the €2 prescription levy that medical card patients currently have to pay to obtain a prescription medicine.
Prior to 2010, medical card patients could obtain all of their prescription medicines free of charge. However, in 2010, a prescription levy of 50 cent per prescription item was introduced.
This figure was increased in a number of Budgets since and currently, the charge is €2 per item, up to a maximum of €20 per month per person or family.
However, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) and the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) have jointly called on the Government to begin phasing this charge out, and at the very least, to exclude vulnerable patients from the levy as part of Budget 2019.
"This fee for medications is unjust and is a significant barrier to the accessing of vital medicines for marginalised patients. A system must be introduced whereby marginalised people are exempted from fees which they frequently cannot afford.
"Eliminating this fee would significantly help these vulnerable patients, and the cost to the Exchequer would be negligible," commented Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, a GP at Safetynet Primary Care, a medical charity that delivers care to those marginalised in society without access to healthcare.
He pointed to a 2016 study written by researchers in Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork, which found that these prescription charges had led to a reduction in the use of medicines by patients.
"Independent research shows that after the 50c prescription charge was introduced in 2010, the use of all medicines reduced, which would have caused a reduction in people's quality of life, and may even have had an adverse impact on health outcomes such as heart attacks and stroke. We know that the reduction in adherence to many symptom relieving medicines was even greater after the charge was later increased to €1.50," Dr Ó Tuathail said.
Meanwhile, IPU president, Daragh Connolly, described the charge as ‘a levy against health and wellbeing for many people struggling with various ailments and who have very limited financial resources'.
"Putting economic barriers in the way of vulnerable patients taking their medicine doesn't make sense. Poor adherence to treatments, especially in the case of chronic illness and long-term patients, will mean more hospital stays, more pressure on our already struggling health service, and more costs to the Exchequer in the treatment of these patients in the long run," he commented.
He pointed to a survey carried out earlier this year, which found that one in six medical card patients would ‘think twice' about taking their prescribed medicines because of the cost of the levy.
"Pharmacists and GPs would like to see a phasing out of the levy and, at the very least, exemptions for especially vulnerable patients, including those in residential care settings, homeless patients, patients with intellectual disabilities, and palliative care patients. Patients need to be supported not penalised," Mr Connolly added.
Budget 2019 will be announced on October 9.