This is an article from today’s Western Daily Press
Trade union chiefs have thrown their weight behind a growing campaign to end a national inequality by abolishing NHS prescription charges throughout the UK.
Payments have already been scrapped in Wales and are being phased out in Scotland but in England some people with life-threatening illnesses still have to pay for their drugs. Now Swindon TUC has launched a website highlighting what it believes is a hugely unjust situation and is urging individuals and organisations to sign a petition.
Research by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) shows many people not exempt from the charges struggle to pay the cost of drugs they are prescribed, since each item costs £7.10.
As a result, CAB estimates up to 800,000 people do not take all the drugs they are prescribed, especially those requiring a cocktail of medicines.
Swindon TUC secretary Martin Wicks said: “The Government says that treatment in the NHS is free at the point of need. But so long as prescription charges remain in place this is not true. People in England are asking, if charges can be abolished in Wales and Scotland, why not here?
“It is estimated that they will bring in £430 million this year, which is frankly peanuts.
“With political will this is easily affordable. It is, especially a national scandal that people with life-threatening illnesses have to pay for their drugs.” Mr Wicks said it was unjust for patients in England and Northern Ireland – where a review into the matter is taking place – to pay, when charges are disappearing in Wales and Scotland.
Currently, prescriptions are only automatically free for children and people over 60 in England. Younger adults requiring life-saving chemotherapy are among those hit the hardest.
They can be prescribed several different drugs, each constituting a separate prescription.
A £102-a-year pre-payment card is available, but Mr Wicks said not everyone could afford to pay that amount up front.
He said there were also many anomalies in the exemptions, which were based on means-testing.
“Anyone who has worked all their lives and saved some money, the not very large sum of £16,000, has to pay.”
Swindon TUC‘s actions mirrored a growing anger over the completely unfair prescriptions scenario, he said.
Thousands of English patients on the border with Wales sign up with Welsh GPs to get free prescriptions.
Among those angered by the issue is Bristol great-grandmother Betty Bourne, 74 who is also backing Macmillan Cancer Support’s campaign for free prescriptions in England.
She said: “I am not a political person and because of my age I get my prescriptions free.
“But I think this is a very unfair situation.
No one should be in a position where they can’t afford to pay for their prescriptions. Yet for one in 10 cancer patients aged 55 and under who have to pay for their prescriptions, this is exactly what happens.”
The Swindon TUC‘s petition can be found online at
People without internet access can get petition papers from Mr Wicks at 07786 394593.