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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 December 2007, 16:25 GMT
Staged end to prescription charge
Prescription charges will be phased out in Scotland
Scottish ministers have decided against immediately scrapping prescription charges for the chronically ill.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon instead announced a series of cuts in the charges, ahead of their planned abolition in 2011.

She told MSPs they were a "tax on ill health", while Labour has expressed reservations about the move.

The cost of a single prescription is to be cut by more than 25% in 2008, followed by further yearly reductions.

The SNP manifesto promised to "immediately abolish" prescription charges for people with chronic conditions, cancer and for those in full-time education or training.

Ms Sturgeon said the cost of pre-payment certificates - which cover a person's prescription costs over a 12-month period - would be cut from almost 100 to under 50 from next April, to benefit people suffering from chronic and long-term conditions.

She said that compiling a list of conditions for instant exemption may have taken until 2009.

The problem is that many people with long-term conditions that are not already exempt from charges simply can't afford the right medication
Nicola Sturgeon,
Health secretary

"This government believes that prescription charges are a tax on ill health," Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament.

"We also believe they are a barrier to good health for too many people."

The health secretary said that more and more people were living with long-term conditions.

"Many of those long-term conditions can, with the right support and medication, be self-managed by patients in their own homes, enabling them to go on enjoying a good quality of life," she said.

"The problem is that many people with long-term conditions that are not already exempt from charges simply can't afford the right medication."

In April next year, the cost for a single prescription will be cut from 6.85 to 5 and will be further reduced by 1 in each of the two subsequent years before abolition, just before the next Holyrood election.

Cautious welcome

The cost of pre-payment certificates will also be cut over the same timescale, coming down at first from 98.70 to 48, then down to 38 and finally 28, before they are ended.

The move is similar to developments in Wales where prescription charges were gradually reduced from 2000 and abolished altogether this year.

Last year, MSPs voted to keep prescription charges in Scotland, when the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration was still in power.

Katy Green, from Arthritis Care Scotland, gave the announcement a cautious welcome.

"It's good news in that people are going to have to pay less for pre-payment certificates but it does mean there will be a delay, because it will be phased in," she said.

"Any prescription costs are not good - we know that people make choices about whether to take certain drugs for monetary reasons - so we had hoped for more from this announcement.

"But if we would have to wait two years to get a definition of chronic illnesses, I think we would prefer the reduction in the cost of pre-payment certificates."

'Health inequalities'

Ministers have set aside 97m over the next three years to phase out prescription charges.

Once the charges have been abolished the policy is expected to cost 57m a year.

Labour's health spokeswoman, Margaret Curran, raised concerns that the cost of abolishing the charges would put pressure on the NHS.

"Labour strongly believes that no-one in Scotland should be denied the medicines they need because they can't pay for them," she said.

"However, the implications of a universal and free prescription system on vital NHS resources are vast.

"We need assurances from the SNP that they have thought this through and are aware of the implications a free system would have on tackling health inequalities throughout Scotland."

The Liberal Democrats welcomed the decision while the Tories asked for assurances that the new policy would not increase drugs wastage within the NHS.

Tory health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said: "I am also concerned that the Scottish Government clearly has no idea how the measures would affect non-domiciled residents, for example those here on holiday, and whether they would pay for their prescriptions or not."

Under current exemption rules, about half the population qualifies for free prescriptions and about 92% of items dispensed in Scotland are given to patients free of charge.

Public opinion on the Scottish Government plans

Vow to scrap prescription charges
22 Oct 07 |  Scotland
MSPs retain prescription charges
25 Jan 06 |  Scotland
MSPs support free prescriptions
11 Jan 06 |  Scotland
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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