People in Scotland will still receive free prescriptions from next April, despite protests that it will create huge disparities between how Scottish and English patients are treated.
There were fears that the Scottish National Party would reconsider its pledge after Finance Secretary John Swinney’s admission that the Holyrood executive’s budget is expected to fall by Â£1.1 billion as a result of the cuts being announced in Chancellor George Osborne’s comprehensive spending review (CSR) on Wednesday.
But Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that all prescription charges will be abolished in Scotland as planned.
NHS spending has been protected from the CSR cuts, but it is unlikely that that the settlement will permit the introduction of free prescriptions for English patients with long-term conditions, initially promised by Gordon Brown in 2008.
Since coming into power in 2007, the SNP administration has already reduced the cost of a single-item prescription from Â£6.85 to Â£3. Removing the charge altogether is expected to cost around Â£40 million.
By contrast, patients in England pay Â£7.20 for each prescription, or Â£104 for a 12-month pre-payment scheme for those with chronic conditions. Benefit claimants, pensioners, pregnant women, children and sufferers from certain conditions do not have to pay.
TaxPayers’ Alliance campaign manager Fiona McEvoy said the measure was the latest in a series of moves which disadvantaged English taxpayers compared to their Scottish counterparts.
Speaking on behalf of the Prescription Charges Coalition, Asthma UK chief executive Neil Churchill said: “We welcome this decision which shows that with a strong political will you can meet patient expectations even in tough financial times.
“We know that a shocking 42% of people in England with long-term health conditions who pay for their prescriptions say they sometimes go without medication because of the cost.
“It’s totally unacceptable that an alarming proportion of people are being forced to put their health at risk due to the high cost of prescriptions.
“If the coalition Government wants to create a patient-centred NHS, they must listen to the priorities of patients and bringing England in line with the rest of the UK should be a priority in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.”
Copyright Press Association 2010