There was considerable criticism of the government's policy of scrapping prescription charges last year.
It had been a long term aim of the SNP administration to make prescriptions free, as the Labour/Plaid government had done in Wales, and reductions on the price inherited from the Labour/Liberal administration in 2007 had been made, but there was criticism from some people that the policy handed free medications to people who could easily afford to pay for them, and that, in any case, those who couldn't were already covered by free medication.
Of course that wasn't actually correct, as people on contribution based benefits had to pay full price. Amazingly, that included people who were in receipt of Incapacity Benefit. In some cases that meant multiple prescriptions every few weeks. And of course people on low wages (and there are plenty of them in Scotland) often couldn't afford to get what the doctor ordered, which often led to longer absence from work than would otherwise have been necessary.
Far from being a gift to the rich, it was actually a lifeline (literally in some cases) for the poor. Not taking prescriptions is a fast track way for some people to land in hospital, an altogether more expensive option.
Now I read on Left Foot Forward that there has been research in England, where prescriptions have risen ever year for the past 15 years, showing that around a third of people with some serious conditions can't always afford to buy all the drugs prescribed for them. Neil Churchill of Asthma UK, which is trying to get the English government to scrap the charges, writes:
"There are 15.4 million people in England with long term medical conditions and with dramatic increases to the cost of food, energy and transport, many are now struggling to afford their prescriptions and putting their health at risk by reducing or rationing their medicines.
"An Asthma UK survey found that 34 per cent of people who pay for their prescriptions sometimes chose not to get some of their medicines because of the cost. Non-compliance with medication is a leading cause of avoidable and costly hospital admissions for asthma.
"Research published by Rethink Mental Illness showed that 38 per cent of people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia have had to choose between paying household bills and paying prescription charges. People with long-term conditions are a significant voter population and many feel passionate about prescription charges."
- The current prescription charge in England is £7.40 per item, although 3 month and annual exemption certificates can be purchased.