Elderly in England will be denied free prescriptions

England will not follow Scotland and offer free prescriptions or personal care for the elderly, according to health secretary Alan Johnson.

Responding to questions at a Health Select Committee meeting in London last week, Mr Johnson said the difference in policy was not because Scotland received a higher proportion of funding.

'Scotland went down the route of free care. England didn't do it because we thought it was the wrong thing to do,' he said.

Mr Johnson added that he disagreed with the free prescription policy in Scotland and Wales. 'I think there are better things you can do with your money to target the people who need it most.'

Patients in England with chronic conditions are still required to pay £6.85 for each prescription item.

England's elderly are currently means-assessed to decide if they are eligible for free care. Those with assets above £20,500 pay for the care themselves.

Since devolution in Scotland, care for the elderly is provided by the state.

Labour MP Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire Moorlands) said the difference in care was seen as unfair by people in England.

Mr Johnson was presenting evidence on public expenditure. He defended below-inflation pay awards and the cut in investment recommended in the comprehensive spending review, saying it was the 'right thing for the economy,' and that any further rises in public sector pay could drive up interest rates.

Mr Johnson said the 2 per cent pay award for NHS staff recommended by the DoH was 'not a bad deal,' but did not mention GPs, who are expecting a third successive pay freeze.

The health secretary also said that efficiency targets across the whole of the NHS will rise from the current 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent next year, which will save a further £8.2bn. A document will be published this month on how to achieve such savings.

tom.ireland@haymarket.com.

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