Sunday, 23 March 2014

getting free prescriptions

The great British Labour party politician, Aneurin (Nye) Bevan, unveiled the National Health Service at Trafford General Hospital in Manchester (then called Park Hospital) on 5th July 1948.  One of its core principles was that it would be free at the point of use.  When he unveiled the plans, Bevan declared: "We now have the moral leadership of the world".

He was clearly pretty chuffed with it, and I can understand why.  The NHS was just one of several things that the Government of the day were trying to do to improve the lot of ordinary people.  The change was dramatic.

However, running the NHS for free was expensive - the government wasn't willing to make the necessary taxation decisions to fund it, not wishing to give with one hand and take with the other, so charges were being suggested as early as 1951, which led to Bevan's resignation, and a split in the Labour party.  Charges weren't brought in until 1952, after a Tory government had come to power.  

The first charges were 1 shilling for prescriptions, and £1 for dental treatment.

Prescription charges were again abolished in 1965, but reintroduced in 1968 (both decisions made under Labour).  The new prescription charge was 2 shillings and sixpence, and several exemptions were put into place.

Scotland re-introduced free prescriptions in 2011, behind Wales, who bit the bullet in 2007.  England is now the only part of Britain still charging sick people for prescriptions.  The current fee is £7.85 per item.  There are lots of exemptions, which mean that only around 10% of prescriptions are paid for, but there are still people not taking things which they should.

The British Medical Association have argued that the exemptions in place in England are illogical, and unfair, and it has called for all prescriptions to be free.

Lots of medicines are very expensive, but £7.85 doesn't cover that.  Governments should be working with drug companies to bring those costs down.  

The first few months of this year have reminded me how glad I am to be living in Scotland, and getting free prescriptions.  I have been on lots of different medicines, trying to find a way to cope with the pain issues I've been having.  Sometimes I've had new medications on a daily basis.  If I'd been in England I would not have been exempt, and my illness would have cost my family almost £100 so far this year.  That is just adding insult to injury.

When the Scottish Parliament brought free prescriptions back in 2011, the SNP, Labour, and the Green Party were all very much for it.  The Liberal Democrats supported it, but kept one foot on the fence, naturally.  The Tories on the other hand called the move "politically irresponsible," and let's face it, they'd know.  

And breathe...

So what do you think?  Would England be better off with free prescriptions?  Can we fix the NHS and keep it working?  Or should we turn it into Medicare and all go to BUPA instead?

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