Free prescriptions spark English fury

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THE abolition of prescription charges in Scotland has sparked division and anger, after leaving England as the only part of the UK where patients pay for their medication.

Scots yesterday joined those in Wales and Northern Ireland in getting free prescriptions, while the English saw the cost of theirs rise by 20p.

The Department of Health in London has ruled out scrapping charges because of the impact it could have on other parts of the National Health Service.

MPs, the Taxpayers' Alliance and the Campaign for an English Parliament claim people south of the Border are now subsidising Scottish perks.

On the election campaign trail, SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon said: "As a result of electing an SNP government four years ago prescription charges have been abolished.

"Under Labour, prescriptions cost nearly 7, under the Tories and Lib Dems in England they are 7.40."

Decisions on whether to charge for prescriptions are made by the UK's devolved administrations. The Scottish Government has funded its 57 million pledge out of its own health budget.

Bill Cash, MP for Stone, in Staffordshire, said: "I'm sure my constituents will feel aggrieved at the idea of a part of the country we are heavily subsidising, receiving advantages that they are not getting themselves."

The Campaign for an English Parliament says it has been inundated with new members who believe they are getting a raw deal.

Eddie Bone, campaign chairman, said: "We are getting thousands of inquiries from people who want to find out what has happened and why they are being penalised.

"As the biggest source of tax revenues, the taxpayer in England is now subsidising health benefits in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."

Emma Boon, campaign director at the Taxpayer's Alliance, added: "English taxpayers will now be feeling - even more so - that they have a raw deal following today's announcement. They are subsidising those free prescriptions at a time when an extra 20p is going on prescriptions in England."

However, an SNP spokesman said: "If you look at independent statistics, Scotland sends more to the exchequer than we receive back in return.

"From an English perspective, they need to elect a government committed to fairness throughout the English health service."

The issue has been picked up by the English-based media. The Daily Mail said: "The move means that English patients are effectively subsiding free drugs for those living elsewhere in the UK", and is "further evidence of a medical apartheid in Britain".

A Department of Health spokesman said it had no plans to abolish prescription fees in England.

"If we did, it would leave the NHS with a funding gap of 450m, that's the equivalent of 18,000 nurses, 15,000 midwives, or 3,500 hospital consultants," he added.

What they said

"English taxpayers will now be feeling - even more so - that they have a raw deal"

Emma Boon, Taxpayers Alliance

"A part of the country we are heavily subsidising is receiving advantages (we) are not getting"

Bill Cash MP

"What is good enough for taxpayers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, should be good enough for those in England"

Eddie Bone, Campaign for an English Parliament