Prescriptions in Scotland will be free from 1st April after the Scottish Parliament backed SNP proposals to abolish charges completely.
Charges paid by patients for prescription medicine have been reduced each year since 2008. Today’s approval by Holyrood’s health committee will see them removed completely in April.
In 2007 the SNP promised to deliver free prescriptions, the Nationalists lowered charges every year for one-off and regular prescriptions. Over the four years a person with a regular prescription will have saved £180.
As he met customers in Edinburgh who have benefited from the gradual reduction in prescription fees, SNP leader and First Minister Alex Salmond said:
“This is a momentous day marking the culmination of four years’ work in gradually reducing the burden on Scots paying for prescriptions. The abolition of these charges from April 1 recognises the fact that during these difficult economic times, no person should see cost as a barrier to access to prescription medication.
“We have gradually reduced the cost of prescriptions since 2007 and in doing so have helped large numbers of patients, particularly those with long-term conditions and who require a number of prescription items.”
The First Minister said that those who were ill should not be penalised in these hard times.
Mr Salmond added:
“At times of economic difficulty, the last people we should be penalising are the sick. We want to move towards restoring the NHS to its founding principles: healthcare that’s free at the point of delivery and based on clinical need, not the ability to pay.”
The SNP leader was joined by Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon who expressed pride that the SNP had removed a charge she described as a tax on the sick.
Ms Sturgeon said:
“Hundreds of thousands of Scots are already better off thanks to our decision to phase out prescription charges and they will benefit even further now that full abolition is to be introduced.
“It is my firm belief that healthcare should be free at the point of access for everyone and I am proud to have overseen the removal of prescription charging, which was nothing more than a tax on ill health that Scotland’s poorest family’s could ill afford.
“There have been attempts to stop our plans with some suggesting that the current financial climate is the wrong time to bring forward this abolition.
“On behalf of the 600,000 adults living in families in Scotland with an annual income of less than £16,000 who until now have not been entitled to free prescriptions I completely disagree. When times are tight the last people who should be paying are the sick.”
The move was welcomed by representatives of Asthma UK Scotland and of Diabetes UK Scotland.
Jane-Claire Judson, National Director of Diabetes UK Scotland, said the abolition of charges meant a fairer system that would improve the health of thousands.
Ms Judson said:
“Diabetes UK Scotland is pleased to welcome free prescriptions for all as the simplest, clearest and fairest system, which will benefit people with diabetes.
“Introducing free prescriptions for all will mean that people who treat their diabetes through lifestyle management will no longer have to pay for any associated treatments. This is important as we know from our own survey work that a fifth of people in this situation would be forced into making a choice to reduce their diabetes medication and a sixth would not be able to purchase all the medication they need. Both lowering cholesterol levels and managing blood pressure are important for managing diabetes and this move will improve the health of thousands of people living with diabetes across Scotland.”
Gordon Brown, National Director of Asthma UK Scotland, said that the abolition of charges would allow those on low incomes access to better treatment that would relieve some of the pressure on the Health Service.
Mr Brown said:
“Asthma UK Scotland welcomes the abolition of prescription charges for people with asthma. We know that there have been people with asthma in Scotland who failed to get all or some of their medicines dispensed due to the cost of prescription charges, particularly those on low incomes but who did not qualify for any type of exemption.
“Limiting asthma treatment because of financial difficulty puts the health of people with asthma at risk and places an extra burden on the NHS. The abolition of prescription charges is significant progress towards helping people manage their condition and live as healthy and as active a lifestyle as possible.”
Patients who buy annual pre-payment certificates (PPCs) will have saved £50, £60 and £70 respectively each year since the policy was introduced, representing a total saving of £180 over the three years. In the last financial year, there were 408,000 PPC sales; an increase from 169,000 in 2007-08.