of Prescription Charges Briefing No 129
Colin Fox, MSP has been promoting a Member's
Bill for the Abolition of Prescription charges in the Scottish
Parliament. This would mean that those who currently have to pay
a charge for their prescriptions would no longer need to do so.
UNISON has supported this Bill from the outset
and gave written and oral evidence to the Health Committee of
The Bill has been discussed in the Health Committee
over the past session and has finally published a report, (11
January 2006) which was narrowly approved by the Committee with
a recommendation "that the Parliament approves the general
principles of the Bill".
REASONS FOR SUPPORTING THE BILL
UNISON has supported the Bill as we believe that
prescription charges are inherently unfair, inequitable, illogical
Despite the Executive's assertions that 80% of
all prescriptions dispensed in Scotland are free, evidence shows
that the current system adversely affects more people on low incomes
and in chronic ill health who find themselves unable to afford
the medicines they are prescribed.
Anecdotal evidence from our members working in
health centres and the community shows that many people do not
take up their prescriptions, or choose the most important, if
prescribed many items.
This can cause a deterioration in their health,
leading to more expensive hospital treatment at a later date.
According to research carried out by the Citizen's
Advice Bureau, the numbers not taking up their prescriptions rises
with every increase in charges and this has increased over the
last year due to changes to Incapacity Benefit which have taken
many people out of income support top-up and removed their right
to free prescriptions.
In addition, the cost of prescriptions has an
effect on people with chronic illnesses. Some diseases are exempt
from prescription charges, but there are many, life-threatening
diseases, including conditions such as chronic heart disease,
arthritis, asthma, cancer, including chemotherapy drugs taken
in the community, Hepatitis C and HIV/Aids which all have to be
paid for. These are some of the biggest killers in Scotland which
have a prevalence amongst lower income groups and a greater take-up
of medicines could play an enormous part in saving Scottish citizens
from the worst effects of these diseases.
Mental Health treatments also have to be paid
for once patients are released from hospitals, even if they are
subject to a Compulsory Treatment Order.
SITUATION IN OTHER PARTS OF THE UK
The Welsh Assembly is committed to the phased
abolition of prescription charges by 2007. Wales already provides
free prescriptions to 16-25 year olds and as of 1 October 2004
the price of a prescription fell to £5 in Wales. A further price
drop took place in 2005 and another one is due in 2006.
There are no plans to abolish prescription charges
in England or Northern Ireland.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
According to press coverage since the
Health Committee vote, the Scottish Executive and Ministers are
determined that free prescriptions should not be introduced, arguing
that it would mean the poor being penalised and rich people
being given the benefit. They are making suggestions that
there may be scope for extending a review into prescription charging
but there appears to be slow progress on this. They are also promising
to issue a consultation paper setting out a range of options for
changing the scheme, in the future.
According to the Progress Report on the Bill,
Stage 1 has to be completed by 26 January 2006, which means that
it will be introduced to the Parliamentary Business within the
next two weeks. This is the stage where the general principles
are discussed and Parliament agrees whether or not it should proceed
to Stage 2, when more detailed consideration would be given. If
it passes both of these stages, it goes forward to Stage 3 when
final consideration is given and a decision whether it should
be passed or rejected by the Parliament is taken.
The pressing need at this time is for the Parliament
to pass the Bill at Stage 1, otherwise it will fall. Whilst UNISON
would support reforms to the current scheme, we believe that the
pressure of the Bill is the best way to ensure that any changes
are meaningful and will meet our criticisms of current charges.
WHAT CAN BRANCHES DO?
Branches should ask members to put urgent pressure
on MSPs to support the Bill at Stage 1 in the next few weeks.
To find out who your local MSPs are, click on
the following link:
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