By Oliver Farrimond
PHARMACY workers received a flying visit from Nicola Sturgeon MSP yesterday, as the Deputy First Minister marked the further reduction of NHS prescription charges.
Sturgeon, also Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, was given a guided tour of G.W. Allan Chemists in Portobello, and even tried her hand at filling out a prescription for herself.
Staff and patients were on hand to discuss the changes to the prescription charges, which yesterday fell by a pound to £4 per item.
The reduction is the latest phase in a campaign to see all prescription charges abolished by 2011, a bid described as “very important” by Ms Sturgeon.
She said: “We’ve done this because the Scottish Government does not believe in taxing those people with ill-health.
“In line with the founding principles of the NHS, we believe healthcare should be free at the point of use.
“Removing the prescription charge will ensure that cost is not a barrier to those needing to take the medication prescribed to them.”
The right choice
When questioned about cutting a source of revenue from the cash-strapped health service, the Deputy First Minister added that the SNP believed it had made the right choice.
She said: “The total drugs bill in Scotland is worth more than a billion pounds, and prescription charges make back only a tiny fraction of that.
“Politics is about choices, and this government has decided to deliver a real reduction in personal cost to all of those who need medication.”
Prescription charges have also been reduced in Northern Ireland, and have been abolished in Wales.
However in England prescription charges have risen by 10p, despite long-terms to ease financial strains on patients of long-term illnesses, such as diabetes or cancer.
Susan Douglas-Scott , chief of the Long Term Conditions Alliance, said that the abolition of the fees was an important step for the future.
“I think that Scotland is leading the way with this issue by showing support to people with long-term illnesses.
“By 2030 there will be many more people with long term conditions living to a much older age, and they’ll have to get used to living with prescription drugs.”
Scots patients and campaigners alike have welcomed the move, which also sees charges for pre-payment certificates falling as well as one-off drug fees.
Lesley Forrest, from Edinburgh, has to take regular medication after a kidney transplant in 1996 to prevent her body from rejecting the organ, which will continue for the rest of her life.
For the past 13 years, the 51-year-old finance administrator has paid for prescription pre-payment certificates to cover the cost of the medicines she needs following the operation.
Lesley, who represented Britain at the World Transplant Games in Bangkok in 2007, said: “My transplant really did give me an entirely new lease of life, but occasionally there is that little worry at the back of my mind which comes from knowing I’d be very ill without regular medication.
“That’s really enough of a worry on its own without the additional strain of knowing that I have to find the money to pay for the medication, too.
“So it’s a relief to know that I’ll be paying less again this year, paying even less next year, and that from April 1 2011 I won’t be paying at all. I’m looking forward to having the extra money in my pocket and enjoying my life.”