Prescription Bill shenanigans hard to swallow

Scottish Socialist Voice

Unholy trinity of Labour, Lib Dems and Tories join forces to stop free healthcare

The Scottish Executive announced a series of changes to prescription charges regulations last week in an effort to stop MSPs supporting SSP MSP Colin Fox’s Bill to abolish the charges completely.

In a dramatic late twist the Scottish Executive threw in the towel on two arguments. Firstly they finally accepted that tens of thousands of low income Scots go without the medicines they need because they cannot afford the £6.50 per item.

Secondly they conceded that the £45million income from the charges could be absorbed elsewhere in the budget without leading to cuts in the service provided to patients.

Health Minister Andy Kerr agreed to consult on plans to abolish charges for everyone on benefits, all patients with a chronic condition, students and extending access to pre payment certificates (discounts for frequent users). The proposals are to go out to public consultation immediately.
Campaigners in the Scottish Campaign to Remove All Prescription charges [SCRAP], whilst disappointed that the Parliament rejected the Bill, are in no doubt that the argument for abolition was won hands down. SCRAP believes that the Executive has in fact simply shirked the issue for the moment.

Colin Fox welcomed the fact that tens of thousands more patients will not have to pay and believes none of these extra exemptions would have been conceded without the pressure of the Bill and the campaign around it.

He said: “People believe the concessions are welcome and at the same time another step towards complete abolition. I tend to agree.”

He also commented on the political ineptitude of the Labour/Lib Dem Executive, saying: “Rather than accept that the case has been made for abolition, the Executive is now in a more foolish political position than before. Throughout this debate Jack McConnell has claimed that 92 per cent of all prescriptions go to people in exempt categories, mainly people over 60 and those on repeat prescriptions. SCRAP campaigners believe the new figure could be as high as 97.5 per cent when the new proposals are factored in. In other words the cost of administering the system of charging may now be approaching the amount the Executive takes in income.”

However serious problems remain for the Executive. Many low paid workers and students in part time education and training are still not covered. And perhaps even more ominously, part of the consultation document opens the door to means testing of pensioners.

It says “...straightforward age exemption is, therefore, anomalous in terms of policy.”
In other words, since the Executive wish to see patients who can afford to pay for dispensed medicines they may make pensioners pay from now on.

Will the Executive honour its commitment now that the Bill has been defeated? Can the Liberal Democrats honour their pledge to go into the 2007 general election to abolish NHS prescriptions having just voted against the proposition last week? And isn’t the exemptions system not an even bigger dogs dinner than before?

Even the New Labour lapdog the Daily Record recognised the Executive’s mishandling of prescription charges when it said in it’s editorial:

“The system may have been a muddle, but there is every opportunity that we could now land ourselves in an even bigger mess.

“And when the calculations are finally complete, we could find that the SSP’s plan to scrap the charges was actually preferable.”

The SSP has pledged to continue its fight to end prescription charges for all, and bring about a truly free National Health Service.


Feb 2006

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