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Tories tell Scotland: we want to axe your free prescriptions

MILLIONS of Scots would have to pay for prescriptions under plans unveiled today by the Scottish Tories.

Ruth Davidson is set to tell delegates at the Scottish Conservative conference that people who can afford prescriptions should pay for themPhotograph: Allan Milligan
Ruth Davidson is set to tell delegates at the Scottish Conservative conference that people who can afford prescriptions should pay for themPhotograph: Allan Milligan

Leader Ruth Davidson will promise to axe free universal prescriptions in order to pay for 1000 extra nurses and midwives.

The SNP abolished prescription charges, dubbed a "tax on ill health", in 2011 at a cost of £57 million a year.

At the time, around half the 5.3m people in Scotland had to pay for prescriptions, including 600,000 adults in families with an annual income of less than £16,000.

But in a high-risk move, Davidson will say that if the Tories form part of the government after the 2016 election, people who can afford it should pay for prescriptions.

SNP Health Secretary Alex Neil last night said Davidson's idea was "ludicrous" and showed the Tories were out of touch.

Prescriptions are free in Wales and Northern Ireland as well as in Scotland. Only those in England still pay the fee - £7.85 an item.

Davidson will tell her party's conference that under the SNP the number of NHS nurses and midwives has "gone up and down like a fiddler's elbow", with 2000 posts lost in the past two years.

This has created "intolerable pressure" on the frontline.

She will say: "It's not good enough for staff and it's not good enough for patients. It's time we did something about it. That's why today I am able to announce the Scottish Conservatives will pledge an extra 1000 nurses and midwives for Scotland. And, once introduced, we will not let numbers drop below that mark. And we'll pay for it by restoring the prescription charge.

"Not for the young, the pensioner, the pregnant or the poor - they'll stay exempt as they always were.But for people who are earning, who are overwhelmingly happy to make their contribution, they will know that their small sum will make a world of difference in wards across the country."

The Conservatives were yesterday unable to put a cost on administering the new system. Nor could they state the prescription charge they would reintroduce, only saying it would climb gradually to £6.85, the level charged in 2011.

The hiring of the new midwives and nurses would also be phased in over the next parliament. Assuming the policy would release £57m a year, the Tories said up to £36m would be used to meet staff costs.

The SNP has promised to maintain free prescriptions in the event of a Yes vote in September.

Neil pointed out many patients long-term conditions such as Crohn's, asthma, cystic fibrosis and Parkinson's, previously paid prescription charges, and so would presumably pay for them again under Davidson's plan. Research from England suggests one-third of people with long-term conditions miss out on medication due to cost.

Neil said NHS staff numbers had risen by nearly 8000 under the SNP, with the number of nurses and midwives rising by more than 1500.

He said: "This is a ludicrous idea from Ruth Davidson which shows how far out of touch with people in Scotland the Tories still are.

"Thousands are benefiting from the abolition of prescription charges including many with long-term conditions. Charges were a tax on ill health, they prevent people getting the medication they need, damage their ability to work and can lead to an increase in the workload for hospitals, nurses and GPs."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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