Page last updated at 09:26 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 10:26 UK

Prescription charges drop to 5

Prescription charges will be abolished by 2011

The cost of NHS prescriptions in Scotland has been cut by almost 2.

The reduction, from 6.85 to 5, is the first of several price drops, which will result in free prescriptions for all in 2011.

Last December, the Scottish Government announced it would set aside 97m to abolish prescription charges.

Once the charges have gone, the policy is expected to cost 57m a year. More than 90% of prescriptions are already dispensed for free.

In December, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs the prescription charges were a "tax on ill health".

Labour expressed reservations about the move.

There will be further 1 cuts for the next two years before the final abolition of the charge in Scotland.

Prescriptions became free in Wales last year.

'Competing priorities'

The SNP manifesto at last year's Scottish Parliament elections promised to "immediately abolish" prescription charges for people with chronic conditions, cancer and for those in full-time education or training.

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

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.

Ms Sturgeon said: "That this is all taking place less than a year after the new Scottish Government came to power underlines the fast pace of delivery and the fact that this is a government of action."

Conservative health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said the reduction in the cost of the pre-payment certificate would improve healthcare and lead to better patient compliance.

However, she added: "We do have an issue with supporting free prescriptions for people who can afford to pay.

"As we all know there are many competing priorities for the allocation of resources in the NHS and we would question the giving of free prescriptions to all."

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