Abolishing charges for prescriptions will not be decided upon until at least the next spending review in the autumn, it has been announced, despite a government-ordered report calling for the "arbitrary" system to be scrapped.
Prescriptions are free in Northern Ireland and Wales and people in Scotland will not have to pay for medicine by 2011. However prescriptions for people in England still have to be paid for.
The new report, published on Thursday, by Professor Ian Gilmore of the Royal College of Physicians, was commissioned by the last Labour government when former prime minister Gordon Brown promised to scrap charges for people with long-term conditions in 2008.
Professor Gilmore handed his report to ministers in November 2009 but it has only just been published.
The report recommended that patients who have a condition which lasts longer than six months should not have to pay for medicine for a maximum of three years, after which a GP can renew the exemption.
Around 15 million people are believed to have at least one long-term health problem, according to the report.
In England, the NHS takes in around £500m from patients through their prescription charges.