Medical card patients still misusing drugs despite charge
MEDICAL card holders are continuing to overuse medicines despite the introduction of the prescription charge a year ago.
Researchers looked at the use of "non-essential"medicines before and after the introduction of the 50c per item charge in October 2010.
It was originally hoped that the charge would help cut down on medical card holders "stocking up" on additional medicines and creams while on a visit to the GP.
But research presented to the winter conference of the Royal College of Physicians yesterday showed there was no difference in the use of these medicines before and after the charge.
It also found that people continued to use the same number of "essential medicines". One of the fears expressed before the charge was introduced was that it could act as a deterrent to people on low incomes.
But the statistics suggest that these fears were unfounded, and the charge has generated about €27m for the health service this year.
And despite a pre-election promise to abolish it by Health Minister James Reilly, it will remain in place next year.
The University College of Cork (UCC) researchers looked at the patient medication records of 132 patients and examined the use of 5,251 drugs from July to December last year.
They found that 43pc of the medicines dispensed over the six months were for heart complaints, making it the largest drug class dispensed.
The found that 47pc of essential drugs were dispensed before the introduction of the charge, and 53pc afterwards.
The research showed that 49pc of the drugs dispensed in the pharmacies studied were non-essential drugs before the introduction of the charge and they made up 51pc afterwards.
The findings were presented by the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and the Department of General Practice in UCC.
A separate study presented to the conference showed the HSE strategy to reduce the prevalence of accidental falls in the elderly has had no discernible impact.
The findings, from the HSE's Health Intelligence Unit in Dublin, said the strategy was introduced in 2008.
There were 48,708 such patients discharged over six years with injuries to the hip and thigh the most common.
It said that the the rise in the rate of admissions continued even though it may have slowed.
There is a need to audit the strategy, it said.