The North's Health Minister Michael McGimpsey today announced plans to abolish prescription charges in the North.
The cost of a prescription will be reduced to £3 (€3.76) in January 2009 and then will be free of charge by April 2010, with the British Department of Health pledging to foot the £13m (€16m) cost from its existing budget.
The UUP's McGimpsey said the move followed a review of prescription charges and was in the best traditions of the National Health Service.
Mr McGimpsey said prepayment certificates will also come down in price, from £35.85 (€45) to £9 (€11.30) for four months and from £98.70 (€124) to £25 (€31) for 12 months until prescriptions are free.
Making the announcement at the Cancer Centre in Belfast City Hospital, the minister said: “A cradle-to-grave health service, free at the point of delivery, is the founding principle of the NHS, which was founded 60 years ago this year.
“It is a principle that I, and the entire population of Northern Ireland, wholeheartedly support.
“Yet for the majority of the last 60 years, people here have been forced to live with an inequitable and unjust system whereby one person’s suffering is ranked above another.
“It is simply unacceptable that those who are ill should have to worry about finding money for vital drugs which they cannot afford. This is totally against the ethos of a health service which promises free health and social care to all.”