Prescription charges abolished in Scotland

 
General practice doctor writing a prescription Prescriptions were free for all when the NHS was first set up.

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Scotland has joined Northern Ireland and Wales in abolishing prescription fees - leaving England as the only part of the UK to charge for them.

No one in Scotland will have to pay for prescribed medicines following the move brought in by the SNP government.

It comes on the same day charges per item rise in England by 20p to £7.40.

But despite the charge, 90% of items dispensed are given out free as children, those on low incomes and cancer patients are exempt.

Prescription charges have been falling in Scotland for the last three years and stood at £3 before the 1 April change, which will mean the Scottish government losing out on £57m a year.

Under devolution, Wales was the first part of the UK to make prescriptions free - four years ago - and Northern Ireland followed in 2010.

Scotland's Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "An SNP government, working for Scotland, has ended prescription charges which were a tax on ill-health saving those with long term conditions around £180."

Prescription charges

Prescriptions were free for all when the NHS was set up in 1948, but charges were introduced in the early 1950s to plug gaps in funding.

The Department of Health defended its policy of charging in England.

It said the fees raised more than £450m a year - equivalent to the salary costs of 18,000 nurses or 3,500 hospital consultants.

Pre-payment deal

A spokeswoman said: "This income helps the NHS to maintain vital services for patients."

And she added alongside the exemptions those needing regular prescriptions, such as patients with long-term conditions, were eligible for discounted rates.

The spokeswoman said: "The price of the 12-month prescription pre-payment certificate will be frozen for the second year running. This allows people to get all the prescriptions they need for an average cost of £2 per week."

Analysis

The elderly, children and those with being treated for conditions such as cancer are the most likely to need prescriptions.

And despite the furore over the differences across the UK - all these groups get their medicines without paying wherever they live.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may all have a policy of free prescriptions, but in England there are an extensive list of exemptions and discounts.

Nine in 10 prescription items in England are handed out free as those exempt include the under 16s, over 60s, pregnant women and those on low incomes.

Of the rest, many are discounted through a pre-payment scheme which means that people needing regular prescriptions, such as those with long-term conditions like arthritis, only have to pay just over £2 a week.

It effectively means only the healthy and wealthy pay the full £7.40 charge.

Responding to the fact England stands alone in charging for prescriptions, Roger Goss, of Patient Concern, said: "Patients in England will be asking if this is fair. They are being discriminated against and losing out. It should be the same across the NHS."

The move to end the fees north of the border comes in the second week of campaigning for the Scottish Parliament election on 5 May.

The Scottish Labour Party said it welcomed the move.

Its health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: "This is something that we supported in the Scottish Parliament and would not come to fruition without that support."

Derek Brownlee, finance spokesman for the Scottish Tories said that giving free prescriptions to those people who could "well afford to pay for them" was "politically irresponsible and a drain on public resources at this time of huge financial challenges in the NHS".

He added "The young, the elderly and those on benefits are all already exempt. Using millions of Scotland's health budget to reduce the cost of prescriptions to zero by next year means it cannot be spent elsewhere."

The Scottish Liberal Democrats said it would take forward "what we've inherited on free prescriptions" but it added that the SNP could not have it both ways.

A spokesperson said: "They cannot scrap prescription charges and also continue paying out £28 million of bonuses to the highest paid employees in the NHS."

The Scottish Greens said it believed there should be equal access to the NHS and that meant free access to everyone at the point of use, including free prescriptions.

The party's co-convener Patrick Harvie added: "We fully support the abolition of prescription charges. This kind of move will become harder to sustain, though, if none of the other parties are prepared to support our call to bring in fairer taxes and protect public services."

Prescription charge views

SNP Scottish Labour Scottish Tories Scottish Lib Dems Scottish Greens

Find out what the wider health policies of the parties are

  • Scotland's Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said prescription charges were a tax on ill-health
  • It said those with long term conditions about £180
  • The abolition of prescription charges marks 1 April as April fairness day
  • Labour's health spokesperson Jackie Baillie welcomed the abolition of prescription charges
  • It says it was a policy which it supported in the last parliament
  • It believes the government should have moved sooner to end fees for those with chronic conditions
  • Tory finance spokesman Derek Brownlee said giving free prescriptions to those who could afford it was "politically irresponsible"
  • The money to fund the move should be spent on cancer drugs
  • It could have been spent on care for the young and elderly
  • A spokesperson said it would keep a free prescriptions policy
  • But it believes savings should be made on growing drugs budgets by cutting consultant bonuses
  • Saved money can then be spent on cancer services and other health schemes
  • The Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie said his party agreed with the abolition of prescription charges.
  • He said health should be free at the point of use
  • To pay for this policy the party would bring in "fairer taxes"

 

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