Below is a letter I sent to the Scotsman on Friday 24th November
As the person who introduced the Bill to scrap NHS prescription charges in Scotland, I welcome the Disability Working Group’s conclusion that all chronic sufferers should be exempted from payment reported in today’s Scotsman[ ‘Free Medicines for chronic patients urged’].
The fact that some chronic conditions currently qualify for free treatment and others equally deserving do not is just one of the many injustices in the present system.
The present list of exempt medical conditions was introduced in 1968 and there was absolutely no logic to it then. In the subsequent 40 years no medical professional has come forward to defend that initial list against demands for other chronic conditions to be added on clinical grounds.
There is plainly no sense behind a system which says people with diabetes or a thyroid condition can get free prescriptions but cancer patients or those with chronic skin conditions, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, cystic fybrosis, Parkinsons disease or any mental health problem should not.
Of course my Bill, went further than the Scotsman’s rather limited campaign. It argued for the end to charges for all patients and an end to all anomalies.
Why for example should people on Disability Living Allowance or Incapacity Benefit have to pay for their medicines? Surely a question the Disability Working Group should have asked?
The Citizens Advice Bureau estimate there are 50,000 people a year in Scotland who go without the prescriptions they need - and that their GP has written out for them- because they cannot afford the £6.75 per item on the script. Ask any pharmacist about the unclaimed prescriptions or the customers who agonise about which drug they can skip on their multiple prescription. They are usually chronic sufferers often on multiple prescriptions, students and those on benefits and low paid.
In the meantime whilst the Executive has accepted my case for abolishing the charges for [some ] students and for the chronically sick – albeit they have yet to outline the extent of their exemptions there – but it intends to leave other patents behind. It is unjust and makes no sense.
Neither does the fact that if chronic sufferers are all to be exempt from payment, and I hope they are, it will mean that about 95% of prescriptions will be free. So it begs the question, why not follow the example of the Welsh Assembly and finish the job, abolish the charges for everyone. If it is good enough for the Welsh Assembly to introduce universal free prescriptions why isn’t it right here?
The Scottish Socialist Party believes in universal free health care, the principle upon which the NHS was founded. Scrapping the charges for the chronically sick is of course welcome but still leaves many poor people behind.