After the concessions – carry on campaigning for the abolition of prescriptioncharges in all of the UK

November 16, 2008

In his speech to Labour’s conference in September, Gordon Brown announced that:

  • From next April 1st cancer patients will not have to pay for prescription charges;
  • Over “the next few years” savings from the NHS drugs budget will be ploughed back into free prescriptions for people with “long term conditions”.

The first is a welcome step in relation to what has long been a national scandal, though it should not be forgotten that it has taken Brown 11 years to do it, and not without the pressure of a political and economic crisis.

The second of these promises appears conditional on the level of savings. In addition it is not clear that all people with “long term conditions” will be exempted. The government is carrying out a review led by the President of the Royal College of Physicians which will report back “next summer”. According to a letter from Dawn Primarolo, Minister of State in the Department of Health:

“This review will seek the views of the public, clinicians and patient representative bodies and will consider how to define the range of long term conditions which should be exempted from prescription charges and how exemption from prescription charges can best be phased in.”
(Letter to Michael Wills MP in relation to Swindon TUC’s call for the abolition of prescription charges in all of the UK)

This is what Primarolo deems to be “a fairer system of prescription charges”.

The cost of exemption of cancer patients will not break the government’s bank (no pun intended). It will cost around £20 million per year. It should be borne in mind that the government is estimated to receive only £430 million this year from prescription charges. Compared to the amount of money that they have stumped up for banks that are in crisis because of their own reckless lending, such a figure is peanuts.

According to the government’s own figures 88% of patients in England get prescription charges free. We don’t know how many will be left once cancer patients and at least some people with chronic sickness are added to the list, but it will almost certainly be less than 10% and possibly even 5%. It simply does not make sense for the government to insist on imposing financial difficulties, even on a small number of people, when charges are already abolished (as in Wales) or being phased out (as in Scotland, and now Northern Ireland). Why impose a means test on a shrinking number of people who will rightly consider the government’s doctrinaire intransigence to be unjust?

Swindon TUC believes that this injustice needs to be righted by the government. The fact that they have made some concessions under pressure underlines the need for the campaign for complete abolition of charges in all of the UK to be continued. To that end we would ask that you:

  • Write to the Department of Health calling for abolition (we will give you the details of who to write to when these are available);
  • Write to your MP pressing them to support abolition, underlining the illogical continuation of charges for a shrinking number of people, or ask to meet them to discuss the issue face to face;
  • Continue collecting petition signatures;
  • Trade Union members should put forward a resolution to next year’s union conference, committing their union to press for abolition (we will be sending out a model resolution which you can use if you wish).

You will probably have heard that the government has decided to abandon taking the Post Office Card Accounts for old age pensioners away from Royal Mail, as a result of the public outcry. This underlines that public pressure and pressure on MP’s, sufficiently mobilised, can achieve results. We should not let the fact that only a small minority of people will have to pay prescription charges stop us from pressing for complete abolition and an end to this injustice.

Martin Wicks
Secretary, Swindon TUC


Northern Ireland to abolish prescription charges

September 29, 2008

This is from the BBC website. This will now leave England as the only country in the UK with charges.



Plans to abolish prescription charges in Northern Ireland have been announced by NI Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.


The cost of a prescription in NI will be reduced to £3 per prescription in January 2009 and will be free of charge by April 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

Prescription charges – almost but not quite

September 23, 2008

A Swindon TUC Media Release

In his speech to New Labour’s conference today Gordon Brown announced that:

  • From next year cancer patients will not have to pay for prescription charges;
  • Over “the next few years” savings from the NHS drugs budget will be ploughed back into free prescriptions for people with “long term conditions”.

The first is a welcome step in relation to what has long been a national scandal, though it should not be forgotten that it has taken Brown 11 years to do it, and not without the pressure of a political crisis in which he is fighting for his survival.

The second of these promises appears conditional on the level of savings.

It should be borne in mind that the government is estimated to receives only £430 million this year from prescription charges. Recently it stumped up £50 billion for Northern Rock and even more recently £100 billion for a bunch of spivs in the city to cover their “toxic loans”.

I don’t know how much of the £430 million is comprised of prescriptions from cancer patients, but if you take away the receipts from them and people with chronic illnesses there would be barely any income left.

To maintain prescription charges for whoever might be left in England simply does not make sense. Therefore we should continue to press for abolition in England. Far from being a “gift” from Gordon, his announcement makes a nonsense of his government’s refusal to follow Scotland and Wales in abolishing prescription charges for the whole UK.


For further comment ring Martin Wicks on 07786 394593


“Why make me pay for drugs that I need to live?”

September 6, 2008

Here’s part of an email we received from one person who needs regular prescriptions.


“I was born with a blood condition and have to buy tablets to help when needed, to help clot the blood.


Also I have Asthma and have to buy, on a regular basis, my inhalers and pills to help combat this.


On top of this anything else needed within that month bought over the counter for myself and my family.


I wish I didn’t have any of these conditions but why make me pay for drugs that I need to live?


People with Diabetes don’t have to pay and some of these sufferers bought on the condition themselves through their diet. Where’s the justice in that!


My husband always asks why he pays so much tax and national insurance and yet he pays on top for my prescriptions.” 

Drugs charges are ‘national disgrace’

September 4, 2008

Doctors join call for prescription charge axe

This is from today’s Swindon Advertiser

A DOCTOR from Swindon says it is time for changes to prescription charges. Dr Peter Swinyard made the comments hot on the heels of the launch of a Swindon TUC campaign to abolish prescription charges.


Charges have already been abolished in Wales and are being phased out in Scotland.


But in England patients still have to pay for their drugs as prescriptions are only automatically free for children and people over 60. Read the rest of this entry »

Call for free prescription charges

September 2, 2008

This is an article from today’s Western Daily Press.

Trade union chiefs have thrown their weight behind a growing campaign to end a national inequality by abolishing NHS prescription charges throughout the UK.


Payments have already been scrapped in Wales and are being phased out in Scotland but in England some people with life-threatening illnesses still have to pay for their drugs. Now Swindon TUC has launched a website highlighting what it believes is a hugely unjust situation and is urging individuals and organisations to sign a petition. Read the rest of this entry »

“Outdated and unjust”

August 14, 2008

This is an editorial from the Morning Star.

WHAT a revelation of government priorities is its refusal to countenance the abolition of NHS prescription charges in England.


It has no difficulty extending £50 billion to the Northern Rock bank, spending billions on overseas wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and feather-bedding big business and the rich by freezing direct taxation and slashing corporation tax. Read the rest of this entry »

Cancer patients forced to cut back on food to pay hefty prescription charges

August 13, 2008

Nearly half of cancer patients in England are being forced to cut back on basic needs such as food or heating, in order to pay for their prescriptions, a survey by Macmillan Cancer Support has found.


The survey also shows that nearly two thirds of cancer patients are missing out on simple leisure activities, like family days out, because they are struggling to cope with the added cost of multiple prescriptions – often over long periods of time.


The results come more than a year after the Government promised to review the prescription charges system in England, which currently only gives medical exemptions to some illnesses.

Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said:


‘It’s appalling that cancer patients in England are forced to cut back on basic necessities like food to pay for their urgently-needed medication. People must never be forced to choose between food or medication. The Government must act now. Patients should be allowed to focus on getting better instead of worrying how they’re going to find money for prescriptions.’


Cancer patients often need multiple prescriptions to ease distressing side effects of cancer treatment like nausea, fatigue, severe mouth ulcers, and debilitating diarrhoea and can spend hundreds of pounds each year paying for prescriptions.


Amanda from Surrey, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last September, said:


‘My treatment’s over but I’m still struggling. I’m now on statutory sick pay because I’ve been too unwell to work and quite frankly, have barely enough money to live on. I’ve had to adjust my lifestyle to cope with the cancer – a better diet, more heating, lots of prescriptions – and when you add it all up it’s expensive. Fighting cancer is hard enough without the terrible financial worry that comes with it.’


Macmillan believes prescription charges are a tax on illness and should be abolished in England.


To join Macmillan’s campaign visit


“I need at least four prescribed medications…”

August 12, 2008

Here is one patient’s experience of the problems with the cost of prescribed medications.

“I support this campaign fully. I think its a disgrace the amount they charge for prescriptions.

I am on long term medication after having major surgery a few years ago, and have been left with side effects which I will have for the rest of my life. I need at least 4 prescribed medications, which mounts up to a lot of money every other month. This is not including over the counter medication for routine symptoms: i.e. hay fever, headaches, flu, cough medicine (on occasion). Frankly I can no longer afford it, am thinking of which medication to drop, which I know I cant afford to do, health wise.”

“The case for maintaining prescription charges is in tatters today”

August 11, 2008

Colin Fox, as a Scottish Socialist Party Member of the Scottish Parliament moved a Bill for the abolition of prescription charges. This opened the debate which led to the SNP government introducing legislation to phase them out by 2011. He is joint national spokesperson of the SSP.


“I presented the Bill to abolish Prescription Charges in Scotland to the Holyrood Parliament in 2003 because I believe they are in effect a tax on the sick. Prescription charges are in my mind an affront to the founders of the NHS who made a profound and noble promise in 1947 to provide the best medical care possible to everyone, regardless of their means or status.


The fact that charges were later introduced as ‘a short term emergency measure’ in 1951, initially by a Labour Government keen to raise money to fight a war in Korea is unfortunate to say the least.


Now there are nearly a million people in Britain who regularly go without the medicines prescribed for them by their doctors because they simply cannot afford the charge of £7 per item.


The case for maintaining prescription charges is in tatters today. They simply cannot be justified on medical grounds, on financial grounds, or on the basis of any logic. When you look at those who are exempt and those who must pay then all sense goes out the window. The richest people in Britain often get their medicines free – like JK Rowling (entitled to free prescriptions as a new mum) or the Queen (entitled as a senior citizen), whilst on the other hand millions of the poorest patients must pay a small fortune for theirs. Some chronically sick patients often have to finds the money for a cocktail of tablets again and again and again.


The Welsh Parliament led the way by abolishing these infamous charges in 2006. The new SNP government up here have accepted my case for abolition and promised to do so by 2011- we will keep them to that promise. So I welcome Swindon TUC’s efforts to ensure that millions of patients in England benefit too.


I pledge to do all I can to help you in your campaign for health justice.”