The review is expected to be completed by the end of 2005. The review is in two phases, the first of which began in early October with a literature research project. The purpose of the research is to provide an evidence base for the second phase of the review, which will comprise a full public consultation. We will consider the outcome of the consultation process and thereafter decide whether any changes should be made to the current prescription charge exemption arrangements.
The minister will be aware that the criteria for exempting people from prescription charges were agreed way back in 1968. Does he agree in principle that many more chronic conditions, such as asthma and multiple sclerosis,
As the previous Minister for Health and Community Care said, the partnership agreement states that we need to review prescription charges for people with chronic health conditions and young people in full-time education or training, which is what we are doing. The process for that is long and detailed. We want the conclusions to be correct, hence the timetable that I have outlined. I understand that there is a degree of frustration about the timetable, but we need to ensure that we make significant changes to prescription charging on an evidence base that provides the solution that the Executive seeks to its partnership agreement commitment.