Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Are free prescriptions holding Scotland back?

I heard on the radio today that people in Scotland are three times less likely to get access to a new cancer drug than neighbours in England.

Apparently the gap between England and Wales is even greater.

People in Scotland and Wales will be asking why their chances of accessing an important cancer drug are so much worse than in England?

In recent times there has been controversy as Scotland has abolished prescription charges, seeming to be offering a better health deal than in England and Wales.

However, there are some aspects of medical care where the offering outside of Scotland is better than north of the border.

For example, Polyclinics are being developed in England in a number of suburban areas.  These are clinics where a wide range of services including diagnostics can be delivered without the need for an overnight stay.  They are often attached to a hospital.  This is an important development and promises to make a big improvement in the provision of health care.

Are free prescription charges holding Scotland back in any way?

So much depends on prioritisation and the allocation of resources in healthcare as it does in other walks of life.  It is an interesting question nonetheless. There is always likely to be a cost in offering a service like free prescription charges.  It may be that advances in primary care or cancer treatments could be amongst them.
I have heard it argued that having free prescriptions is actually quite a cosmetic policy – a piece of window dressing that doesn’t do much for the fundamentals of healthcare.

Before their abolition, most medication was available for free.  Kids, anyone in full time education, OAPs and anyone on benefits got their meds for free anyway.  Add to that anyone with a ‘lifetime’ prescription and the number goes up again.

Free prescription charges have been a good thing but it may be that we find there are better ways to support the nation’s health.

I don’t know the answer to this and I will read with interest anything else that comes up, but I think it is important that free prescriptions do not become a sacred cow and we ask the question from time to time!    


  1. I think it's too early for the prescriptions policy to have had much of an impact - I think the emphasis in Scotland is to make sure we diagnose Cancer earlier when it's easy to treat.

    However, I was never comfortable with the free prescriptions policy - I had free prescriptions under the old system cos of a medical condition I had and the cost of drugs to me would have been the same as a couple of glasses of wine in a pub every couple of months.

    I think there is a better use of £40 million. I understand the reasoning behind it - because the cut off for qualification was quite low, but it still gives an unnecessary benefit to the rich.

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    This is what I am unsure about.

    Is there a better use for the money with a more substantive health rationale.

    Will we miss out on some important developments in healthcare they have in the NHS elsewhere in the UK.

    Is the policy actually quite trivial and just window dressing.

    I'm interested to hear a view that shows an example where it is of real value.

    I'm asking the question!