It seems appropriate that as we come to the end of the first term of the SNP Government, another major advance in social policy will be achieved on April 1 when prescription charges are abolished in Scotland.
At last a founding principle of the National Health Service, that no-one should be charged money for becoming ill, will be realised. The British Medical Association (bma) has argued against prescription charges for a long time, describing the system of charges and exemption categories (which still pertains south of the border) as “outdated and iniquitous”.
Free prescriptions in Scotland have been enthusiastically welcomed by those involved in the care of people with long-term medical conditions, who can suffer significant financial penalties under the system of prescription charges, as well as having to suffer their illness in the first place. The British Heart Foundation, Asthma UK, Parkinson’s UK, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society and many more have expressed their strong support for the move.
It is all quite reminiscent of the recent attempt to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol in the Scottish parliament, a move also supported by all the key organisations involved in the issue on the ground. This was voted down by the alliance of Liberals, Tories and Labour for whom the costs of the disease, disorder and violence associated with alcohol misuse was a price worth paying to prevent the SNP government from passing a piece of “historic” (and vital) legislation.
This one must have been tricky for Labour, who originally opposed the move. No doubt this was another progressive piece of SNP legislation which had to be blocked to prevent the government from gaining any credit. But then they realised they had to be seen to oppose the Liberal-Tory coalition in London as well and, remembering a poll back in 2008 which had 75 per cent of Labour voters backing SNP policy on the issue, Labour have belatedly backed the policy.
There has also been a shift on the issue from the Liberals and Tories. They want to put prescription charges up. The cost of prescriptions in England, where these parties are in power, will rise from £7.20 to £7.40 per prescription.
Can there really be any significant number of people in our society who believe that fining the sick is an appropriate way of raising government money?