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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006, 12:20 GMT
MSPs support free prescriptions
Dispensing pills
The SSP wants prescription charges scrapped
A campaign by the Scottish Socialists to abolish NHS prescription charges has received a significant boost.

Holyrood's health committee has given its backing to MSP Colin Fox's bill.

Ministers remain totally opposed to the idea but have accepted that they will have to address flaws in the present set-up.

The SSP claims 75,000 Scots go without some or all of the medicine they require because of the cost of prescriptions, currently 6.50 each.

The party believes prescription charges undermine the core principal of the NHS - a service free to all in need.

However, it is known that 92% of Scottish prescriptions are already free.

Potential benefit

Health Minister Andy Kerr said the plan would simply remove the charges for those who could afford to pay, while costing the NHS in Scotland 40-45m a year.

He said: "It wouldn't be good value for money. Every penny is a prisoner in the NHS and every penny needs to be spent wisely. This is a question of priorities."

Scottish National Party MSP Roseanna Cunningham said it was untrue that only better off people would benefit from the proposals.

The executive hasn't been able to give us any concrete alternatives to deal with the current inequities
Roseanna Cunningham MSP

"There are people on very low incomes who do not currently get free prescriptions," she said.

"For example, receiving incapacity benefit does not automatically mean that you're going to get free prescriptions. And some chronically illnesses are exempted but not others."

On Wednesday, the health committee voted narrowly in favour of the abolition of charges.

Ms Cunningham, who is the health committee's convener said, as a result of inconsistencies and anomalies in the current system, all members agreed that the status quo was not an option.

'Firm commitment'

However, in its report, the committee criticised some of the financial evidence offered by SSP leader Mr Fox, claiming he had overestimated savings and underestimated costs.

She said: "The problem is that the executive hasn't been able to give us any concrete alternatives that they intend to bring in to deal with the current inequities."

But the executive said it would shortly be issuing a consultation paper setting out a range of options for change.

A spokesman said: "We recognise that the current charge and exemption arrangements have anomalies and inconsistencies, which is why have made a firm commitment to review the policies as they affect people with chronic conditions and young people in full time education."

The question now is do we tinker at the edges of a discredited exemption scheme or do we abolish it
Colin Fox
SSP leader

Mr Fox said the days of prescription charges in Scotland were numbered.

"Even the executive now accepts it is irrational, inconsistent and entirely at odds with the founding principles of the NHS that treatment should be free and equally available to everyone," he said.

"The question now is do we tinker at the edges of a discredited exemption scheme or do we abolish it and go back to first principles."

The Scottish Conservatives disagreed with the SSP proposal.

Parliamentary consideration

Health spokeswoman Nanette Milne said: "Everybody agrees the status quo is not fair.

"However, I don't feel Colin Fox's proposal is the right one and the health committee was worried the costs of his scheme will be more than he is indicating, leading to an avoidable loss of revenue for the NHS.

"It is a complex issue and I'm pleased the executive is reviewing it."

The SSP's proposals will now be considered by the parliament.

As ministers have rejected the idea of abolishing charges it is thought to be unlikely that the bill will reach the statute book.

See the reaction to the committee's decision

Call to scrap prescription charge
21 Jun 05 |  Scotland
Prescription charge plea by MSP
08 Apr 04 |  Scotland
Prescription charge to rise 10p
12 Feb 04 |  Health

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