Why it’s right for us to pay for our pills

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Comment -

THE SNP’s flag­ship pol­icy of free pre­scrip­tions for all has al­ways been fa­tally flawed be­cause, as any­one who has ever had to bal­ance a fam­ily bud­get knows only too well, noth­ing is truly free.

In fact, ‘free’ pre­scrip­tions came at a cost of £1.3 bil­lion to the National Health Ser­vice in Scot­land last year. And ev­ery penny spent pro­vid­ing parac­eta­mol and pile cream to the well-off is a penny that can­not be spent pay­ing for state-ofthe-art drugs for those most des­per­ately in need of med­i­ca­tion for se­ri­ous com­plaints.

De­spite the SNP spin around this pol­icy, the truth was that be­fore the abo­li­tion of pre­scrip­tion charges for all, the poor­est faced no costs. The sys­tem as it used to be was de­signed to pro­tect the vul­ner­a­ble. The SNP’s sys­tem is de­signed to ap­peal to the bet­ter off.

It was perhaps in­evitable that the pol­icy of free pre­scrip­tions for all would be dif­fi­cult to sus­tain. An age­ing pop­u­la­tion has al­ready placed mount­ing pres­sure on NHS bud­gets. This be­ing so, chan­nelling money to those who sim­ply do not need it seems dou­bly reck­less.

Now one Scot­tish health board has de­cided to re­strict the pre­scrip­tion of cer­tain eas­ily ob­tain­able medicines for the least se­ri­ous com­plaints.

NHS Bor­ders has de­creed that some medicines of ‘low clin­i­cal value’ should be the first to go. Pa­tients at­tend­ing their GP in the Bor­ders and com­plain­ing of mi­nor ail­ments can ex­pect to be ad­vised to visit their lo­cal com­mu­nity phar­macy to buy the med­i­ca­tion they re­quire.

This seems an em­i­nently sen­si­ble ap­proach to tack­ling the im­pli­ca­tions of a costly and poorly thought out pol­icy.

No­body who needs med­i­ca­tion should be de­nied it but the case for sus­tain­ing free pre­scrip­tions for all grows weaker.

The Scot­tish NHS is al­ready strug­gling un­der se­vere fi­nan­cial pres­sure. It’s time for the Scot­tish Govern­ment to ac­cept that it may be nec­es­sary to abol­ish its free pre­scrip­tions pol­icy and di­vert funds to where they are most needed – on the front line.

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