Abolish NHS Prescription Charges – Update

The Wiltshire & Swindon GMB union branch has passed a resolution which will go forward to the GMB’s national conference in June. If passed there it will commit the union to campaigning for abolition of prescription charges throughout the UK.

A similar resolution from the union UNITE’s Western Region on abolition has been passed to the union’s National Executive Committee for its consideration.

You may recall that we were expecting John McDonnell MP to move an Early Day Motion in Parliament in favour of abolition. Unfortunately the economic crisis exploded onto the scene and John has been busy with that as well as the issue of the third runway in Heathrow which sits in his constituency. However, I have spoken to him and have sent him an updated text which takes account of the concessions the government made late last year. It reads:

Abolish NHS prescription Charges in all of the UK

With the abolition of NHS prescription charges in Wales and their staged abolition in Scotland and Northern Ireland, England remains the only country in the UK where charges will remain in place.

With the exemption of cancer patients from charges in England and the expressed intent to exempt people in England with chronic illnesses (apparently dependent on savings in the drugs budget), there is no logical case against the extension of abolition to all of the UK. It does not make sense to maintain charges for a shrinking number of people in England alone.

So long as they remain in place then those who have to pay them cannot fail to feel a sense of injustice. Moreover, the government’s assertion that the NHS provides treatment free at the point of use and need is not true so long as charges remain in place.

We therefore call on the government to end this anomaly and flagrant injustice and to abolish prescription charges in England, in line with the decisions of the devolved assemblies in the rest of the UK.”

Prescription Charge Review

As reported previously the government has set up a review on the extension of prescription charges to people with chronic or long term conditions. The Department of Health has set up an on-line survey which says that “responses to this survey will help Professor Gilmore formulate his recommendations to Ministers about how to exempt people with long term conditions from prescription charges and how this exemption can be phased in.”

These words underline what we expected; that the anomalies resulting from an exemption list will not be resolved by such an approach. They may be made worse. The questionnaire asks people to chose amongst the following criteria for determining the basis for exemption.

  • How severe the condition is and how seriously it affects the persons quality of life;
  • How long they have suffered from the condition?
  • Whether they suffer from the symptoms all or most of the time;
  • The amount of treatment required the keep the condition under control
  • The potential to improve the person’s health.

This is a recipe for subjective judgements which will leave some people with a grave sense of injustice. Why should one be exempted and another not. Moreover, how is the extension of exemption to be phased in? On the basis of some table of illnesses ranked in degrees of seriousness? Who is to say one illness goes above another in ranking?

All this underlines the need to abandon such a ludicrous approach which will leave a shrinking number of people paying charges in England alone, of the four countries in the UK. The £400 million a year required is, of course, a pittance in comparison with the fortune the government has thrown at the banks.

If you have not sent in an email to Dr Gilmore’s review, calling for abolition in England in line with the decisions of the devolved authorities in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, can you please do so.

Either email dhmail@dh.gsi.gov.uk heading it for the attention of Professor Gilmore, Prescription Charges Review or write to him at:

Prof Ian Gilmore, DH Mail, Richmond House, 79 Whitehall, London SW1 2NS

Martin Wicks
31st January 2009

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One Response to “Abolish NHS Prescription Charges – Update”

  1. Ann Ferguson Says:

    Why do people in England keep getting punished we have to pay for our percriptions it is only fair that other parts of the country have to pay aswell, otherwise it should be free for every one.

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