It is a year to the month that prescription charges were abolished in Scotland.
Then, the SNP Government renamed 1 April, ‘April Fairness Day’ to mark the occasion, having previously described the charges as ‘a tax on ill-health’.
In stark contrast, on the day Scotland followed Wales and Northern Ireland in abolishing the charges, prices rose in England to £7.40, while a further increase of 25p that came into effect last week has now taken prescription charges in England to an eye-watering £7.65.
In response to the increase, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said it believes it is “unacceptable to raise the cost of prescriptions in the current economic climate and that increasing the price is a barrier that could come between a patient and lifesaving medicines.” While the BMA has also called the system unfair and called for charges in England to be scrapped.
However, the Westminster Government has said that abolishing prescription charges would leave the NHS with a £450m annual shortfall.
In Wales, the policy recently marked its fifth anniversary. However, local media reports that the number of prescription medicines dispensed in Wales has risen by a fifth since 2007 and each person in Wales now receives an average of 24 prescriptions each year, has prompted fresh questions from long-standing critics about the sustainability of the flagship policy.
However, Welsh Health Minister Lesley Griffith defended the policy telling WalesOnline: “When we introduced free prescriptions, critics called it a gimmick.
“However, not only is the policy keeping more people healthy and out of hospital, it has had a significant effect on those whose incomes were just above the benefit level, for whom the full cost of prescriptions otherwise would have an immediate and detrimental impact on the difference between income in work and on benefits.” In Scotland too the first anniversary of the policy was heralded by reports of figures from ISD Scotland that showed the number of prescriptions dispensed in Scotland has risen by 2.8 million in one year.
However, a Scottish Government spokeswoman explained the figures could indicate that the policy is having the intended effect: “While changes in prescribing volume are due to a variety of factors and cannot be directly attributed to a particular policy, an increase in dispensing volumes may in part reflect the abolition of prescription charges which took effect from April 1 2011.
“This might suggest that prescription drugs are more accessible for patients previously put off by the price of prescription charges.”