NOW NHS SAYS: PAY FOR YOUR OWN PILLS
Health chiefs in radical plan to slash cost of free prescriptions
SCOTS patients may soon be forced to pay for medicines under an NHS ‘drug-rationing’ scheme.
People who go to their GP with minor ailments expecting free treatment would be told to visit their local pharmacist.
Instead of getting treatment on prescription, they would have to buy medicines.
The Scottish Government introduced free prescriptions in 2011. But they cost £1.3 billion last year and health boards are struggling to balance the books. One board is now considering radical proposals that would see it refuse to issue prescriptions for certain medicines. NHS Borders has already agreed to ‘restrict prescribing of some low clinical value medicines’ as it cuts costs.
Scottish Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs said: ‘There’s no
question health boards are under severe financial strain. But huge investment in health down south will provide significant sums for Scotland through the Barnett Formula. It’s essential the SNP passes that on.
‘If the SNP is committed to free prescriptions, it’s essential this rationing for some patients does not take place. That could lead to huge discrimination against those with certain conditions.
‘The Nationalists introduced free prescriptions – it’s down to them to ensure it’s properly resourced.
‘After 11 years of financial mismanagement of our NHS under the SNP, we are increasingly seeing a postcode lottery developing in the availability and delivery of services in our Scottish NHS.’
Paracetamol is among the most commonly dispensed medicines, despite being sold for as little as 15p for a packet of 16 tablets. Freedom of Information requests show free paracetamol has cost Scottish health boards more than £57 million since charges were scrapped.
Earlier this year, NHS Tayside banned one-off prescriptions for paracetamol and ibuprofen to save £1 million a year.
Now NHS Borders has issued an urgent warning in a paper on ‘prescribing cost containment’. It said that ‘if allowed to continue, the cost of medicines could theoretically consume all available resources in NHS Borders’.
Proposals included an agreement ‘to restrict prescribing of some medicines of low clinical value’.
NHS Borders said: ‘Prescribing costs are rising faster than our annual budget uplift. For 2018-19, the savings plan for prescribing is £1.6 million. We run reminders via social media and other channels, signposting people to their local pharmacy where a pharmacist is best placed to advise on common conditions such as coughs and colds, athlete’s foot and hay fever.
‘The board encourages selfmanagement where possible, either through purchasing painkillers from a community pharmacy or via the minor ailment scheme.’
NHS Highland has already issued a similar warning on the dangers of rising costs.
Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: ‘This is a deeply concerning situation.
‘It is absolutely essential that everyone should be able to receive the medicines they need, regardless of their ability to pay.
‘But it is clear that the SNP’s failure to properly resource our NHS is putting that principle in jeopardy.
‘Rather than patting itself on the back for introducing free prescriptions, the SNP Government should be ensuring the system has the funding it needs to work.’
Alex MacKinnon, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s director for Scotland, said: ‘If community pharmacists see patients and can treat patients that have minor things, then we’re keeping them out of GPs’ surgeries, to allow the doctor to spend more time with a patient who’s really got something seriously wrong.
‘We’re keeping them out of accident and emergency as well, which is a horrendous cost and we’re keeping them away from swamping the NHS 24 lines as well.
‘So, from a professional body perspective, we’re absolutely supportive of what’s being planned.
‘Community pharmacists are really good at responding to symptoms. They know when to treat, advise or refer to another practitioner when appropriate.’
Dr Andrew Buist, chairman of BMA Scotland’s GP committee, said: ‘With the pressures facing general practice, it is really important that patients know what help is available to them when they need clinical care.
‘Community pharmacists are able to provide assistance with a range of conditions and may often be more speedily available than a GP.’
The Scottish Government failed to respond when asked to comment.
Earlier this year, the NHS in England banned doctors from routinely prescribing treatment for 35 minor conditions to save almost £100 million a year.