Scottish Labour health spokesperon calls for an end to free prescriptions

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By a Newsnet reporter

The Scottish Labour party has given the clearest signal yet that it intends to end universal free prescriptions.

Speaking in an interview on STV’s Scotland Tonight, Johann Lamont’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie revealed that she wanted to re-introduce prescription charges.

Questioned on whether she wanted to keep free prescriptions, Ms Baillie replied “No”.

She added “I think there are a category of people who earn a great deal of money, who could afford to pay for free prescriptions. […] universal free prescriptions I think should be reviewed.  I think there are better things we could do with the money.”

The Scottish Labour Health spokesperson’s admission on Thursday evening follows threats by her leader Johann Lamont to end universal benefits and bring in means testing.

The stance adopted by Labour in Scotland is at odds with the party’s pledge in Wales where Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones has said Welsh Labour will keep free prescriptions for all.  Ms Baillie’s views also clash with those of her front bench colleague Kezia Dugdale who has publicly given her support to universal free prescriptions.

Scottish Labour’s stance has been welcomed by the Conservatives in Wales and Scotland who also back the scrapping of free prescriptions.

Commenting, SNP MSP Mark Mcdonald, who is a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee, said:

“Jackie Baillie should be ashamed of herself.  As the Labour spokesperson on health, who even tried to claim the abolition of prescription charges as a Labour victory, she knows how unfair this tax on ill-health is on sick people.

“Prescription charges in England are £7.65 per prescription per person – how does Labour think that helps people in this tough economic climate?

“While Ms Baillie opposes free prescriptions, her colleagues in Wales know the benefits of the policy and are clearly not in thrall to the party leadership in London like Labour in Scotland is.

“If she and the Labour Party got their way in abolishing free prescriptions, what would the next policy be, where would they draw the line?

“Until they were abolished last year by the SNP, 600,000 people across Scotland with an income as little as £16,000 were charged for their prescriptions when they became ill.

“These people welcome the extra money in their pockets from not having to pay for prescriptions – they shouldn’t need to fear becoming ill.

“The Labour leadership in Scotland have lost their way, having turned into cheerleaders for Osborne’s austerity agenda, instead of looking for ways to protect hard-pressed families and vulnerable people. The SNP is the only party in Scotland committed to healthcare free at the point of need.”

1) Transcript of Scotland Tonight:

Host: Jackie Baillie, you’ve called for a review of these universal benefits, what are your views on them at the moment, on free prescriptions for instance, what are your views?

JB: On free prescriptions, I’m very clear. If- you know we are seeing the advent of food banks coming back to our towns and cities, then-

Host: So you want free prescriptions?
JB: No. As long as food banks are coming back, you know we have a real issue-

Host: -you want free prescriptions scrapped then? What’s your view, because you are the health spokesperson-
JB: -Absolutely, I think there are a category of people who earn a great deal of money, who could afford to pay for free prescriptions.

Host: So you want free prescriptions scrapped?
JB: I would like to see prescriptions protected for those- as they were before- children, older people-

Host: So you want free prescriptions scrapped, let’s just be clear on that.
JB: Oh yes, universal free prescriptions I think should be reviewed.  I think there are better things we could do with the money.