In February of this year, on the very day the Scottish Parliament was due to debate my Bill to abolish NHS Prescription charges to be exact, the Executive announced a package of reforms in order to offset the chances of a backbench rebellion.
They promised to review the impact the charges had on the chronically sick and on students in full time education and training.
That review is now complete. It is in the hands of the Deputy Health Minister Lewis Macdonald and interest in its findings is intense. That he is reportedly reluctant to publish can perhaps be understood from his point of view because most health experts and commentators are keen to see how the Executive have solved a conundrum which has evaded them for nearly half a century.
The list of chronic conditions which are exempt has not been changed since 1964. In 40 years health professionals and politicians alike have not been able to find an appropriate and logical reason to exempt one chronic condition which allows for one group of patients to get their medicines free whilst not including another group.
Nonetheless this Executive has promised an answer and must now come forward with an answer, to explain why say a Parkinsons Disease sufferer will be is exempt when an asthmatic is not, why a patients with say a chronic skin complaint will be exempt but cancer patients must continue to pay. It is not something the Executive was able to do in the six months that my Bill went through the intensive Parliamentary scrutiny of 2005.
The promised concessions in February will also look rather foolish unless they can also justify why students in full time education and training should be exempt but part time ones are not. Or since the student exemption is at least based on an acceptance that there are those who simply cannot afford the £6.60 charge per item of prescription, why only students? Why not the low paid who run the risk of going without their medicines? Or those on Incapacity benefit or Disability Living Allowance ? Why must these groups of poor people continue to have to pay?
The prescription charges system is a complete and utter dogs dinner which sees 30 MSP’s over 65 get medicines free but 300,000 on IC and DLA forced to pay?
Whatever the Scottish Executive’s review concludes the unfortunate truth is that tens of thousands of Scots will still be forced to go without the medicines they need because the simply cannot afford the £6.60 per item demanded of them. That undermines the core commitment the NHS promised us all – universal free healthcare.
Perhaps the Executive should just come clean and admit their policy amounts to ‘Keeping Medicines Out of Reach ….of the poor.’