The Green Party would abolish prescription charges in England. Scotland, Wales and Northen Ireland have already taken this step and it is the right thing to do. Alex Neil MSP said in 2013 that this has resulted in more people with conditions like asthma and crohns disease receiving treatment.
Prescription charges amount to a fine on ill-health. The exemptions do not go nearly far enough to prevent those on low incomes from having to choose between spending their earnings on food or essential medical treatment. That kind of impossible choice meant that in 2007, nearly 1m people did not get their prescriptions because they could not afford them.
Two out of five GPs think prescription charges are having an adverse effect on patient care, with some patients having to choose between food and medication.
Research conducted by the Prescription Charges Coalition this year found that of almost 6,200 people with long-term conditions surveyed, 30% have not collected prescription items due to the cost. Among respondents who said they sometimes failed to take their medications as prescribed, 57% had experienced negative health outcomes as a result, leading to absences from work and, in 33% of cases, additional GP or hospital appointments.
Abolishing prescription charges would mean a loss of £550m/year revenue from prescription charges – about 0.4% of the total NHS budget.
But charging for prescriptions is likely to be costing the NHS money as patients who are unable to afford essential medicines resort to extra GP and hospital appointments.
We therefore believe that the financial consequences for the NHS and wider economy in England of people not being able to afford their prescribed drugs, is far greater than the £350-450 million (less than 0.5% of the NHS budget in 2015/16) that is the estimated cost of free prescriptions for people of working age with long-term conditions.
Ways of paying for the abolition of prescription charges include getting rid of the NHS internal market. This would save an estimated £4.5bn a year according to the Centre for Health and the Public Interest.
Molly Scott Cato, Green South West MEP and Bristol West candidate, said:
“The NHS was founded on the principle of universal access to free, publicly funded and provided health care at the point of use. Prescription charges in England undermine that principle and the Green Party would not make people pay for access to vital medication.”