Perscription Charges Consultation: Is Wells biting the bullet?

The Health Minister, Jim Wells rose in the Assembly today to announce a consultation on the funding of certain prescription drugs. The Minister, calmly and in a very affable manner set out the difficulties his department faces in funding drugs to combat cancer.

Wells argued that he is in an impossible position with increasing costs on one side and increasing demand on the other forcing him to make more and more difficult decisions in the area of what drug the health service can afford to purchase. So, what is Wells solution for our drugs issues


  1. Creation of a Specialist Drugs Fund. This fund would pay for drugs that are too expensive for use at the moment.
  2. The Minister argued against the re-introduction of the old charge system citing administration costs and the high rates of exemptions. Cost of administering the old system was around £2.5 million per year
  3. Wells favours a lower flat rate charge with a “season ticket” rate of around £25 per year for patients.
  4. This charge would NOT be used to fund other black holes in the Health Service and would be used for drug purchases.
  5. There will be transparency for the public to see where this money is being spent.
  6. The current consultation is open for 3 months.

According the BBC’s Colletta Smith, the Department of Health is hoping to raise £10 million for the fund with these charges.

Overall, I thought Wells did incredibly well today in the chamber. He was engaging with members and often praised the tone/approach of those who were sceptical. Notes of concern were raised by the SDLP, Sinn Fein and TUV. The Minister sought to reassure the other parties that he has no interest in using this as a revenue raiser for other parts of the HSC to get more money.

If you want to take part in the consultation you can do so here


David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs