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08/08/14 12:11

Free prescriptions

Lower rate of increase in past year

Latest figures show that the annual increase in medicines dispensed in Scotland has slowed in the last year, despite the abolition of prescription charges in 2011.

Between 2012/13 and 2013/14 the volume of prescription items dispensed increased by 1.6 per cent. This compares with an average annual increase of around 3.3 per cent between 2006/7 and 2012/13.

Michael Matheson, Minister for Public Health, highlighted the figures as growing evidence that medicines are only being prescribed to people who need them, particularly people with long term conditions.

Mr Matheson said: “There is a perception among some critics of free prescriptions that it has led to a significant increase in the amount of medicine being prescribed in Scotland. This is not true. Prescribers are continuing to prescribe as clinically and cost effectively as possible, ensuring that the benefits of free prescriptions are felt by people who truly need them, particularly those with long term conditions.

“It is simply not the case that free prescriptions have led to a free-for-all, or caused a hike in prescribing, as opponents of the policy would claim.”

Prescription charges were abolished in 2011. Before this, approximately two thirds of paid-for prescriptions related to long term conditions. Every non-exempt patient now saves £8.05 per item compared to England – rising to £8.25 next April.

An asthma patient on a low income, needing two different inhalers every three months, plus two scripts of antihistamines, will save £80.50 a year compared to south of the border. Many other patients, including cancer patients, save £104 a year because they no longer have to buy a 12 month prescription pre-payment certificate.

Mr Matheson said: “Why should the many thousands of people living with long term conditions face on-going financial penalties just because they’re unwell? As a nation we should be proud that no-one is forced to decide which prescribed medicine they can afford, and which they have to go without.

“It remains our firm belief that healthcare should be free at the point of use – the founding principle of the NHS. Free prescriptions are consistent with our ambitions for a socially just society for the people of Scotland, and we remain committed to this policy.”

David Barker, Chief Executive of Crohn’s and Colitis UK, who lead the Prescription Charges Coalition of 30 charities and organisations said:

“People with long-term conditions in Scotland do not face the barrier to effective treatment that those in England still do. Research shows that many with long-term conditions in England are severely compromising their health through being unable to afford prescription charges.

“Since the outdated, unfair and arbitrary system of charges and exemptions was scrapped in Scotland, those with conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s and heart conditions, who need medication on an ongoing basis throughout their lives to keep them well, or even alive, no longer have to face impossible decisions between paying for essential medication or feeding their family or covering rent or heating costs.”

David Cowan, of Glasgow, who has prescriptions for asthma, eczema and colitis, said:

“The cost of redeeming several items on a prescription could be high, although the cost fell steadily for four years beforehand. Financial dilemmas are always unwelcome but most so when you are physically or mentally unwell. When prescription charges were in place people had to prioritise, at the pharmacy counter, which medicines to pay for from the list on their prescription.

“Free prescriptions have enabled doctors to prescribe a range of medicines to not only treat the core illnesses, but where necessary, other medicines soothe uncomfortable symptoms. This has helped us return to full health - happier and faster.”