RUTH Davidson will today pledge that the Scottish Conservatives would restore the prescription charge to pay for 1,000 extra nurses and midwives.
The leader of the Scottish Conservative Party said her party would take the controversial step if it found itself in a position of power after the next Scottish election.
The move was immediately attacked by SNP Health Secretary Alex Neil, who said the restoration of the £8.05 charge for a prescription was “ludicrous”.
In her speech to be delivered on the final day of the Scottish Conservative Conference in Edinburgh, Davidson will attack the SNP’s record on the NHS.
She will argue that ending its policy of universal free prescription would free up cash to spend on more hospital staff. Under the Tory plans, free prescriptions would still be available to the under 16s, the over 60s, those on income support and students in full-time education up until the age of 19.
“Under the SNP, the number of nurses and midwives in Scotland has gone up and down like a fiddler’s elbow; 2,000 posts have gone over two years,” Davidson will say.
“Right now? Hundreds of places down, creating an intolerable pressure on those who are left. Millions spent on bank or agency nurses to plug the gaps. It’s not good enough for staff and it’s not good enough for patients. For the young mum turfed out of the maternity ward on the same day she gives birth. Or the post-op patient waiting over an hour for a bed pan because staff are rushed off their feet. For the nurse whose own health suffers from the stress and exhaustion of doubling her workload.”
The Conservatives believe abolition of free prescriptions would save £57 million a year. Of that, £30m-£37m would fund 1,000 new nurses and midwives. The remainder would be put towards Conservative policy to increase health visitor provision.
Davidson will say: “Today I am able to announce the Scottish Conservatives will pledge an extra 1,000 nurses and midwives for Scotland. And, once introduced, we will not let numbers drop below that mark. And we’ll pay for it by restoring the prescription charge.
“Not for the young, the pensioner, the pregnant or the poor – they’ll stay exempt as they always were.
“But for people who are earning, who are overwhelmingly happy to make their contribution, they will know that their small sum will make a world of difference in wards across the country.”
Conservatives have been long-standing critics of the SNP’s prescription policy, arguing that handing out free medicine to those who can afford it is unsustainable.
But the Scottish Government argues that the policy saves those with chronic long-term conditions £104 per year.
According to the Government, the policy has meant that around 600,000 adults with an annual income of less than £16,000 became entitled to free prescriptions
On Davidson’s claims on nursing numbers, the Scottish Government said that under its watch NHS staff have increased by nearly 8,000, including a 1,500 increase in nurses and midwives.
Neil said: “This is a ludicrous idea from Ruth Davidson which shows how far out of touch with people in Scotland the Tories still are. The Tories cannot be trusted with Scotland’s health system.
“Thousands of people are benefitting from the abolition of prescription charges, including many with long-term conditions who otherwise might not get the treatment they need. Prescription charges were a tax on ill health, they prevent people getting the medication they need, damage their ability to work and can lead to an increase in the workload for hospitals, nurses and GPs.
“It is not a case of funding either prescriptions or nurses. In Scotland’s NHS we can and will provide free prescriptions, pay our NHS staff a fair wage and protect an NHS free at the point of need.
“Even the Tories numbers don’t add up as they seem to have forgotten the cost of deciding who will be eligible for free prescriptions.”
He added: “Given the Tories couldn’t even manage a 1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff we will take no lectures on NHS spending from the Tories.”