Chris Lancelot - Prescription charges ruin the 'from cradle to grave' ethos

Although I'm a firm believer in the free market, I'm definitely a socialist as far as the NHS is concerned. I have always supported the welfare state as being 'from cradle to grave', consistently objecting whenever this principle is in danger.

Prescription charges are a tax on the ill and violate the cardinal NHS principle that all treatment should be free at the point of need (Photograph: SPL)
Prescription charges are a tax on the ill and violate the cardinal NHS principle that all treatment should be free at the point of need (Photograph: SPL)

I disagree with paying opticians' fees; I object to dental charges and I cannot see the morality in denying Viagra to those who suffer with impotence but don't also have diabetes, MS or a history of prostatic surgery.

And why should patients pay prescription charges? They are a tax on the ill and violate the cardinal NHS principle that all treatment should be free at the point of need.

These charges aren't even applied fairly or consistently: patients with hypothyroidism or diabetes are exempt from all prescription charges, not just those relating to their specific condition. And patients with hypertension, IHD or asthma (all potentially life-threatening and often requiring life-long polypharmacy) still have to pay for their prescriptions. Why?

When challenged, politicians of all parties suggest that these anomalies don't present much of a problem, pointing out that most patients with chronic illness are exempt by reason of age or social circumstances, or else can limit the total cost by purchasing a prepayment certificate.

Disingenuous argument
But this argument is disingenuous. Prescription charges often fall disproportionately harshly on those who are just above the borderline of eligibility for exemption, especially when they are receiving multiple medications.

Another vulnerable group are those who suddenly cannot work through illness. Although they may acquire exemption in the future, they need their medication immediately, and there may be a lot of it.

Finally, only those resident in England have to pay: the other UK countries no longer have prescription charges.

This entire set-up is inequitable, unjust and a bureaucratic nightmare. It needs rethinking immediately.

But prescription charges aren't the only area ripe for change: there is something else that the NHS could do about supplying medication that would save vast quantities of time and resources. More next week.

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