Friday, 4 March 2011
NHS apartheid: Scotland grants free prescriptions... but English patients must pay EVEN MORE
Prescription charges in England are to rise just days after Scotland scrapped them, prompting new claims of health apartheid in Britain.
From April 1, patients in England will have to pay £7.40 for each item prescribed by a doctor – an increase of 20p.
Doctors and patients’ groups reacted with fury, branding it a ‘tax on the sick’. They warned the extra charges could cost lives for those who can’t afford their medication and called for the abolition of the charges.
England is the only part of the UK still charging for prescriptions. They are free in Wales and Northern Ireland and will be free in Scotland from April 1.
The latest move means English patients will be hit by higher payments while effectively subsidising free drugs for those elsewhere.
Personal care for the elderly, which forces thousands of English pensioners with assets of more than £23,000 to sell their homes every year to pay for residential care, is also free in Scotland.
The Scots also get free eye tests, which cost English patients around £19.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of British Medical Association Council, said: ‘The Government should not be increasing prescription charges; it should be following the lead set by the three other nations in the UK and making plans to abolish them.’
He branded the plans ‘a move that further exaggerates the absurd postcode lottery that exists in the UK’.
‘Most importantly, the principle of charging for prescriptions runs counter to the founding principle of an NHS that is free at the point of use,’ he said.
‘This is a tax on the sick that contributes only a modest amount to the NHS budget and does not offset the unfair disadvantage of asking the ill to pay for their medicine.’
The Department of Health announced that the cost of an annual pre-payment certificate will remain at £104, but will rise to £29.10 for a three-month certificate.
THE COST OF BEING ENGLISH: DIFFERENCES IN CHARGES ON DIFFERENT SIDES OF THE BORDER
£7.20, rising to £7.40
Hospital car parking
£1.09 per hour on average
FREE only for the young, elderly and those with certain health conditions or in receipt of qualifying benefits
FREE for over 65s who live at home; those in care homes receive £156 from the council towards care
FREE to some, but means testing means provision varies according to 'postcode lottery'
FREE - including morning rush hour travel - for the over 60s
FREE off-peak travel only depending on State Pension age
£3,290 rising to as much as £9,000
Dental charges for a band one course of treatment, such as a check-up, will increase by 50p from £16.50 to £17. A band two course of treatment, including fillings, will increase by £1.40 to £47. The cost of dentures and bridge work will increase by £6 to £204.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the Government put up the charges because ‘abolishing prescription charges in England would leave the NHS with a funding gap of over £450 million each year’.
‘This is valuable income – equivalent to the salary costs of nearly 18,000 nurses, or 15,000 midwives, or over 3,500 hospital consultants.’
Officials pointed out that 90 per cent of prescription items are dispensed free of charge. A wide range of people do not pay, including schoolchildren, pensioners and the unemployed.
When the NHS was established by Labour in 1948, all prescriptions were free. Charging was introduced three years later to pay for defence spending.
Neil Churchill, chief executive of Asthma UK, said: ‘For people in England with long-term conditions like asthma, this is a severe blow.
‘Even before the financial crisis, 34 per cent of people with asthma were forced to choose between medicine and other essential items due to cost, putting them at risk of asthma attacks. This increase is unfair and potentially life-threatening.’
Katherine Murphy, of the Patients’ Association, said: ‘It is particularly unfair of the Department of Health to increase prescription charges in England just as the Scottish Government has abolished them in Scotland.
‘Some patients are put off going to their doctor because they do not want to have to pay for their prescriptions.’