Scrip exemptions to cover 'any six-month illnesses'

Exemptions for long-term conditions proposed.

Exemption from prescription charges in England could be extended to any condition lasting more than six months and needing active treatment, but may be granted for shorter initial periods.

Last year, prime minister Gordon Brown revealed that prescription charge exemptions were planned for patients with long-term conditions. The DoH asked Royal College of Physicians' president Professor Ian Gilmore to lead a review into how exemptions could work.

The final recommendations are expected to be sent out to ministers in the coming weeks.

But a draft document setting out 'emergent thinking' on how exemption for long-term conditions could be defined has been sent to the BMA, the RCGP, the charity National Voices and a coalition of charities co-ordinated by Asthma UK.

This draft proposed that a long-term condition should affect patients for at least six months and require active management. Current exemptions are limited to life-long conditions and cancer. Extending the criteria might mean that patients' symptoms resolve and so a shorter initial exemption may be required, it said.

The proposals also stressed that comprehensive guidance would be needed to make it clear which conditions would qualify. This would mean the system could be introduced without an appeals system, it said.

A DoH spokeswoman told GP that the review led by Professor Gilmore had involved extensive engagement with professional, patient and public groups.

'More recently, Professor Gilmore has had a more detailed debate, which has focused on how the proposed exemption for patients with long-term conditions can be smoothly implemented,' she said.

However, she stressed that the review was independent of government and as a result it 'would not be appropriate' to comment on what might emerge from the review.

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