Scotland politics

Scottish Conservatives drop prescription charge opposition

A dispensing pack of tablets
Image caption A review of drugs, medicine and prescriptions is to be carried out by the Scottish Conservatives

Free prescriptions in Scotland will no longer be opposed by the Scottish Conservatives, the party has said.

Ruth Davidson said she recognised the popular support of the policy, introduced by the SNP government in 2011.

However, the Conservatives said they would examine the use of "low value prescriptions" currently available from GPs.

Political opponents described it as a "humiliating shift" by the Tories.

Prescription charges were abolished in Scotland in 2011, when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was health secretary. England is the only part of the UK to charge for them.

At the time, the Scottish Tories said the policy was "politically irresponsible and a drain on public resources".

"Reduce pressure"

Last year the Scottish Conservatives fought the Holyrood election on a pledge to bring back the charges in Scotland, with Ms Davidson saying the policy had cost the NHS in Scotland £60m and that an £8.40 fee should be introduced.

Reversing the position, she said: "We know there is a large amount of support for this policy and we recognise that."

The party's health spokesman Donald Cameron added: "Pharmacy services have the potential to help reduce the pressure on GPs and hospitals. But this has to be assessed thoughtfully."

"It means thinking about when prescriptions are the right answer and when they're not. It can't be right that the NHS spends £10m a year on over-the-counter drugs like paracetamol.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ruth Davidson acknowledged the popularity of the free prescription policy

"So we need a comprehensive review of how drugs, medicine and prescriptions fit into the future of care."

He highlighted the use of "low value" prescriptions, such as shampoo and sun cream, which can be prescribed to patients including those with skin cancer.

Mr Cameron said the party's health advisory board, which would be set up in the coming weeks, would report back on the role of drugs, prescriptions and pharmacy services before the next Holyrood elections.

'Say anything'

Alex Salmond said the SNP's free prescriptions policy had been an overwhelming success and was one of the reasons people continued to support the SNP after 10 years in government.

The SNP spokesman said: "Ruth Davidson used to describe free prescriptions as a 'publicly funded bribe' - but this Damascene conversion shows that even the Tories can reluctantly recognise that it is the SNP that pursues the right policies for Scotland."

Scottish Labour health spokesman, Anas Sarwar, described the move as an "embarrassing U-turn by the Tories".

He said: "Ruth Davidson has shown once again she will do and say anything to win votes - but even now she won't fully commit to ensuring everyone has access to the medicine they need.

"All this humiliating shift shows is that once again the Tories simply can't be trusted on the NHS. Just this week, Ruth Davidson lined up with the SNP to block a pay rise for our hard-working nurses."

Alison Johnstone, the Scottish Greens' health spokeswoman, said the Tories would have people "scratching their heads", wondering what the "real reasons" are for the U-turn were.

He added: "Following widespread condemnation of their abhorrent rape clause, this feels like a ploy to detoxify the Tories in Scotland and con the voters."

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