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Better Health Services And Access Due To Free Prescriptions - Survey

Universal fees-free prescriptions have already improved healthcare for all New Zealanders, but National’s planned targeting regime will reverse most of the positive effects, according to a survey of community pharmacists released today.

"Community pharmacists have been blown away by the difference universal fees-free prescriptions have made in their first four months," said Lanny Wong, of the Prescription Access Initiative which organised the survey. "Not only has the barrier to vital medicines been removed for those struggling financially, but we’re also seeing better preventative care and early interventions for everyone, even those feeling more financially comfortable."

The survey found two-thirds of community pharmacies had expanded their healthcare services between July, when the "patient co-payment" fee of $5 per prescribed item was removed for all patients, and October.

"Universal fees removal has allowed more time for community pharmacies to increase vaccinations, for example, and to add screening of heart disease or sleep apnoea - the new services fit whatever the local community needs are," said Vicky Chan. "Everyone benefits."

The Prescription Access Initiative conservatively estimates the pharmacist time spent on fees-related administration and explanation prior to universal removal was equivalent to 128 fulltime pharmacists across the country.

"That was a huge loss of healthcare time for all New Zealanders," says Gemma Perry. "Community pharmacists are concerned the National targeting regime will require even more red tape forcing us away from caring for our patients."

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National is planning to bring prescription fees back for all New Zealand adults apart from those who hold a Community Services Card or a SuperGold card.

"Targeting will put pharmacy healthcare services at risk if pharmacies are required to check patient eligibility. And it will bring back shame, distress, and confusion for many patients - trusting relationships will be severely damaged," said Charlotte Schimanski.

"Community pharmacists have told us they are dreading targeting. Thanks to universal fees-free prescriptions, community pharmacies are making plans to help patients get better faster and keep well for longer. Taking that away would be disastrous."

University of Otago research published earlier in the year showed that fees-free prescriptions significantly decreased the number of people admitted to hospital.

The report entitled "Better healthcare for all: Community pharmacy staff on the effects of universal fees-free prescriptions" will be available at from Monday 13 November.

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