Scotland politics

Scottish Tory conference: Leader Ruth Davidson would scrap free prescriptions

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said she would scrap free prescriptions in order to fund 1,000 extra nurses and midwives in the NHS.

She told her party's conference the intolerable pressure placed on the NHS by nursing cuts must be reversed.

Ms Davidson also pledged to improve the Tories' electoral fortunes, saying she was "changing the face of the party".

Ahead of the Scottish independence referendum, she urged supporters to fight for the Union.

Ms Davidson told the conference in Edinburgh: "Under the SNP, the number of nurses and midwives in Scotland has gone up and down like a fiddler's elbow. Two thousand posts gone over two years.

"Right now - hundreds of places down, creating an intolerable pressure on those who are left. Millions spent on bank or agency nurses to plug the gaps. It's not good enough. It's not good enough for staff and it's not good enough for patients."

She continued: "It's time we did something about it.

"That's why today I am able to announce the Scottish Conservatives will pledge an extra 1,000 nurses and midwives for Scotland. And, once introduced, we will not let numbers drop below that mark."

She explained that in order to pay for that under Tory rule at Holyrood free universal prescriptions would end.

Ms Davidson added: "Not for the young, the pensioner, the pregnant or the poor - they'll stay exempt as they always were.

"But for people who're earning, who are overwhelmingly happy to make their contribution, they will know that their small sum will make a world of difference in wards across the country."

Free prescriptions in Scotland were introduced by the SNP government almost three years ago, with the cost of funding the policy standing at about £57m for 2011-12.

Prescription charges were scrapped in Wales in 2007 and in Northern Ireland in 2010.

People in England continue to pay for their medicines and the fee is due to rise from £7.85 to £8.05 from 1 April.

Under the Tories' policy, should they be in power after the 2016 Scottish election, would be £6.85.

Ms Davidson also set out a vision to deal with the performance of her party, which has 15 MSPs and one Scottish MP.

Prescriptions have been free in Scotland since 1 April, 2011

She said that, despite being on the back foot for two decades, the Conservatives were standing "four-square with the people of Scotland" by fighting to keep the Union, making work pay through welfare reform and cutting the spending deficit.

Issuing her recruitment appeal, Ms Davidson said: "If you have ever wanted to be involved in public life but didn't know where to start, then start with us.

"We want you on our team. We want you to come forward.

"I am changing the face of this party - and fighting for the future of the country - and I want you standing beside me.

"Our voice is loud and growing and I want it to grow further."

Ahead of the 18 September Scottish independence referendum, Ms Davidson said her party's Strathclyde Commission on increasing the Scottish Parliament's devolved powers would be publishing its recommendations.

'Utterly incapable'

She told her party gathering: "We are 100% committed - from the Prime Minister down - to making sure that, after voting No, we deliver a settlement the people of Scotland want, within a union the people of Scotland want to keep.

"A settlement built on Conservative values. Responsibility and accountability to the taxpayers of this country.

"A 'No' vote allows devolution to develop. Independence kills it stone dead."

Ahead of the independence vote, Ms Davidson said Scottish government policies including a formal currency union with the rest of the UK had been called into question, saying of Scotland's first minister: "The last few months have taught us that Alex Salmond is utterly incapable of accepting the consequences of his own actions.

"If he was caught spraying graffiti, he'd blame the wall."

Ms Davidson went on to say the Union provided "opportunity, stability, security and prosperity".

She told the conference: " Our United Kingdom belongs to all of us.

"We've built it together. We've traded together. We've fought together. We've lived together. We've loved together.

"We've settled and built our lives together.

"This land is our land and we will allow no-one to break it apart."

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