‘Labour will scrap script fees so pharmacists aren’t NHS gatekeepers’
Scrapping prescription charges in England is the “fair thing to do” and will prevent pharmacists from being “gatekeepers for the NHS”, Labour MPs have told C+D.
The Labour party has pledged to abolish prescription charges in England – which are currently charged at £9 – should it win the next general election.
Explaining the decision to C+D at the Labour party conference in Brighton yesterday (September 23), shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We think it’s the fair thing to do to get rid of the prescription charge in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
“There are people with severe chronic conditions, perhaps in low-paid employment, that forego picking up a prescription,” he claimed. “So we think this is a fairness intervention.”
Mr Ashworth often hears from pharmacists that there is “increasing confusion around [prescription fee] exemptions”, he told C+D, pointing to cases of “people ticking the wrong boxes on forms and finding that they have hundreds of pounds worth of fines as a result”.
“I think it’s a simpler system and a fairer system and it’s about equality as well,” Mr Ashworth added.
Last week, the Public Accounts Committee called for a “fundamental overhaul” of the “heavy-handed, inefficient” system for fining patients for incorrectly claiming prescription exemptions.
Pharmacists shouldn’t be NHS gatekeepers
Speaking at a roundtable event organised by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee at the Labour party conference, Labour MP for Burnley Julie Cooper said she is “really excited” about the announcement.
“This is something that I have been working on for ages and we’ve now made the financial case,” she said.
“I always thought it was wrong for pharmacists to be gatekeepers for the NHS, having to grill people on their financial circumstances. It is absolutely ridiculous,” Ms Cooper added.
Some “sympathetic GPs” have also told her that fewer patients approach them for medication when they need an extra supply, because they cannot afford them, she claimed.
She is “absolutely delighted” that Mr Ashworth and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn have endorsed the new policy, Ms Cooper added.