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Free prescriptions benefit long-term condition patients, Scottish government claims

An increase in dispensed items since script charges were abolished proves that tens of thousands of patients are better off, claims Scotland's health secretary Alex Neil (pictured)

An increase in dispensed items proves that patients with long-term conditions are better off since prescription fees were scrapped in 2011, the Scottish government has claimed.  

The number of items dispensed for asthma had increased by nearly 237,000 since prescription charges were abolished, the Scottish government said last week (September 17). Items dispensed for Crohn's disease had increased by more than 10,000 over this period.  

"I am proud that in Scotland we took the decision to improve access to prescriptions for all" Alex Neil, health secretary, Scotland

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Scottish health secretary Alex Neil said prescription charges were "nothing more than a tax on ill health" that Scotland's poorest families "could ill afford". "I am proud that in Scotland we took the decision to improve access to prescriptions for all," he added.

The revenue lost from prescription charges was balanced out by the money saved from not having to administer the charges system, said Community Pharmacy Scotland policy development pharmacist Matthew Barclay. "It's allowed [pharmacists] to focus on getting the prescriptions done accurately and providing advice and care, rather than being a tax collector," he told C+D.  

However, pharmacist Fiona McElrea of Whithorn Pharmacy, Wigtownshire said that although scrapping prescription charges had "opened up healthcare to everybody", it had also encouraged medicines waste. "If everybody had to pay a very small minimal charge for each prescription, there would be a lot less medicines waste," she told C+D.  

Patients in England were "disadvantaged" because it was the only country in the UK that still charged for prescriptions, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said in response to the Scottish government's statement.  

"Work we have done with charities shows that one in three people with a long-term condition who pay for medicines haven't collected an item because of cost. Removing charges for these people would make a big difference to their health," said RPS spokesperson Neal Patel.  

The number of respiratory corticosteroids dispensed in Scotland each year went up by 87,328 - a rise of 4.9 per cent - between 2011 and 2013, according to data published by NHS Scotland's Information Services Division in June.  

This was similar to the rise in England in one year - the number of respiratory corticosteroids dispensed increased by 5.1 per cent between 2011 and 2012, despite patients still having to pay a charge, according to the most recent figures from the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).  

In March, health groups called on the government to abolish prescription charges for patients with long-term conditions in England, after finding that more than a third were going without medication because of the cost.  

Last month, four fifths of pharmacists who responded to a C+D poll said they wanted prescription payment exemptions to be replaced by a universal charge.

Is the increase in dispensed items due to the abolition of prescriptions charges in Scotland or would it have happened anyway?

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Gavin Dobson, Academic pharmacist

If something is free then people attach ZERO value to it.
This is the worst thing that the SNP EVER did to Scotland.

Health is a devolved matter for the Scottish government as it is for Wales and Northern Ireland and therefore we are not subsidised by the rest of the UK
Pharmacists providing appropriate information to patients to encourage concordance and carrying out polypharmacy/medication reviews is the best way to reduce wastage and ensure patients receive maximum benfit from their prescribed medication

Christopher Plail, Community pharmacist

£1 per item for all and season tickets at £50 a year for high users would make sense.
How often do you see 28 aspirin 75mg and other low-cost items being dispensed because they are free.


One way to reduce waste for a contractor is to encourage as many patients to pick up their medication as possible , rather than it being delivered. The fuel cost, employing a driver, insurance , MOT etc is another BIG monthly expense...This would inturn increase the number of MURs performed and increase profit margins........
However more and more patients are requesting home delivery for various reasons and this is one of the reasons why internet pharmacies are opening and will have a role to play in pharmacy in the future to the detriment of high st chains....


IN 2012, 1,000.5 million prescription items were dispensed overall, a 4.1 per cent increase (39.0
million items) on the previous year and a 62.2 per cent increase (383.5 million items) on
2002. This equates to approximately 2.7 million items every day, or over 1,900 every
minute. The average number of prescription items per head of the population in 2012 is
18.7, compared to 18.1 items in the previous year and 12.4 in 2002.

Amazing stats....


I agree 100%

As the population lives longer, demand will increase and the culture of receiving something for nothing needs to stop. It's a disgrace that one country has to subsidise another....

A small fee will make patients appreciate their medicines and hopefully reduce wastage. Any savings made by the profession should be ploughed back into the global sum and used to provide further services.

£0.50 PER ITEM....
This money should be re-allocated to pharmacists to provide enhances services..
If you want quality, it needs to be backed up by a fair remuneration package.

Anne Roy, Non healthcare professional

People with long-term and complex conditions often require many different prescription items, so that even the £0.50 charge per item would require a substantial outlay for a person like this, especially considering that such people are usually non-working, and on a low income.

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Nothing is for free…..someone, somewhere has to pay for it.

I still think the answer is a small charge (sub £1/item) for all. This could perhaps make people value their medicines more and reduce the indefensible amount wasted.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

70p per item would result in the same profit being made by the NHS. £1 per item would mean they would about £30 more then currently per 100 people. Interesting projections.

Farmer Cyst, Community pharmacist

Luckily for Scotland, England pays for it. So it IS free!!

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Agreed Mr Cyst.

I can't help but think that the abolition of charges in Scotland has lot more to do with Politics rather than Healthcare and its funding.

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