Prescriptions ought to be means-tested, say doctors

Doctors warn that free prescriptions are putting the NHS under pressure. Picture: Lisa FergusonDoctors warn that free prescriptions are putting the NHS under pressure. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Doctors warn that free prescriptions are putting the NHS under pressure. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
DOCTORS are calling for an end to free prescriptions for all to reduce the financial burden on the NHS, a conference will hear.

A British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland meeting in Clydebank is set to debate a motion asking for the SNP’s flagship policy to be scrapped and replaced with a means-tested system.

Family doctors from across Scotland are expected to raise concerns about spiralling pressures within general practice at the heated meeting on Friday, which will be attended by Health Secretary Shona Robison.

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There will also be discussions about funding, workload and whether there will be enough GPs to fulfil the new contract, which is set to be unveiled next year.

Medics from Ayrshire and Arran have lodged a motion saying: “The total abolition of prescription charges in Scotland is a drain on already stretched NHS resources and adds to GP workloads.

“Conference calls on SGPC (Scottish General Practitioners Committee) to work with relevant bodies towards the reintroduction of a means-tested prescription charge.”

Free prescriptions are seen as a tool to reduce health inequalities and a way to ensure people with long-term conditions are able to keep taking their medicines.

But as staff shortages and increased demand place pressure on the NHS, doctors have questioned whether tough choices need to be made.

Last night Ms Robison dismissed the idea for means-testing, which she said was “a tax on ill health”.

Dr John Kyle, a GP trainee representative for Ayrshire and Arran LMC committee, said: “Across Scotland we have an ageing population, patient demand is increasing and new medicines and treatments are costing more.

“I think this is placing the whole NHS under huge pressure and I think no-one is feeling that more than GPs.

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“There are huge problems with unsustainable workload and funding has been falling in recent years.

“As a result of that we need to be looking at every option to help the NHS going forward.”

A means-tested system might include exemptions for children, patients on low incomes or those with cancer, he said.

Dr Kyle added: “I don’t think doctors want to see patients charged for anything but I think we really need to address this financial crisis.”

The Tories have been calling for an end to free prescriptions since 2014. This would bring Scotland in line with England where most patients pay a fee.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “We have long argued that universal free prescriptions is an unnecessary drain on the NHS.

“By simply restoring a system where those who can well afford to – and are often happy to – pay, we could generate tens of millions each year for the NHS.

“That could pay for extra nurses, or support any other area where NHS budgets are being hammered.”

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Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “Prescription charges were nothing more than a tax on ill health that Scotland’s poorest families could ill afford, and I am proud that in Scotland we took the decision to improve access to medicines for all.

“The Scottish Government is committed to keeping prescriptions free.”