Free prescription cock-up is political suicide…

Well, if Gordon Brown ever thought he had a chance in the next general election, he’s just committed political suicide by pissing off 15,000,000 chronically sick people.

Why? Because he promised to extend the range of conditions which qualify for free prescriptions – itself a deeply flawed idea – and he has now reneged on that offer.

I say deeply flawed because, currently, there is a very short list of conditions not, by any means, all life-threatening, which qualify for free meds (the list seems totally random), and simply making the list a bit longer won’t help most people.

As far as I’m concerned, there should be only one criterion for free prescriptions – an incurable condition which renders the sufferer incapable of work.

If I had to pay for my scrips, it’d cost me £112 a month at an absolute minimum. That’s just for my maintenance meds – crises cost more. Yet, had I not turned 60, I’d be expected to pay for them, either per item or by means of a pre-payment certificate. Admittedly the latter is cheaper, but how many people on benefit can find over £100 as a lump sum? OK, I can, but many chronically sick people have families, and probably can’t.

Brown has now inserted the free scrips “promise” into Labour’s election manifesto, a decision which, as I said, is likely to cost him 15,000,000 votes – enough to cost Labour the election, assuming the pundits are right and they had a chance in the first place. I think they did – I find it hard to believe that Britain has become so constitutionally stupid that they’d willingly elect a straw man like Cameron, just to be rid of Brown. Though why the party hasn’t emptied him out I’ll never know as, rightly or wrongly, he’s become a liability (and don’t post comments detailing Brown’s shortcomings – it’s tiresome and I’ll bin them).

I’ve always resisted the temptation to blame Brown for everything that goes wrong, though. Global financial meltdown – Brown’s fault. Except, of course, such a claim is insane. It’s no more his fault than it is, say, the fault of Sarkozy,  in France – there’s a pretty good clue in the word “global”. Kent police to use spy drones – that’s Brown’s fault too, if you read yesterday’s papers. It’s not true though – the prime minister, no matter who he might be, has bugger all say in what Kent police, or any other force, get up to.

Getting back to free scrips, the original promise was that it would be funded by savings from using generic drugs – completely ignoring the fact that some generics, Salbutamol, for example, are simply shit.

That target has been reached and passed, however, according to figures in the Observer today. The government had planned to make savings of about £550m a year from this year, almost double the anticipated cost of free scrips (£250m – £350m), so there really is no excuse for scrapping the scheme, and putting it back until after the election.

Clearly, Brown is hoping that this will be a vote-catcher, boosting his chances in the election. I think, as I’ve said, that it will have the opposite effect, not least because most people believe he’ll be history, but because this action has angered so many people.

Had he fulfilled his promise, that would probably have brought him votes but, as in so many other areas, Brown has displayed appalling judgement, and screwed-up big-time.

See this post for what conditions and benefits will currently get you free scrips.

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2 thoughts on “Free prescription cock-up is political suicide…

  1. “how many people on benefit can find over £100 as a lump sum?”- anyone on means-tested benefit gets free prescriptions. Admittedly if you’re on, say, Incapacity Benefit and just over the IS level you could have problems.

    The present system of health related exemptions implies that some conditions are more meritorious than others. My preferred solution would be to scrap all exemptions related to specific conditions and just look at the number of prescriptions required, by replacing the pre-payment certificate with a monthly cap, so that you’d pay for e.g. the first two prescriptions per month and the rest would be free.

    Complex to set up and administer – maybe adopt Oyster Card technology?

    • Admittedly if you’re on, say, Incapacity Benefit and just over the IS level you could have problems.

      Quite – and that’s a hell of a lot of people – 15 mil according to the Obs.

      The present system of health related exemptions implies that some conditions are more meritorious than others.

      I don’t actually think it implies anything other than the list has been randomly compiled over decades, including conditions for no better reason than someone thought it was a good idea at the time. Possibly because their granny had it. The conditions on the current list are actually incurable, though most are manageable – my idea just extended this concept. And, in terms of pain, intransigence and reduced life expectancy, it could be argued that some illnesses are more meritorious (i.e., far more serious and thus requiring a greater degree of medical intervention).

      Your system is horribly complicated, Nigel, expensive, and and would conceivably lock people into one pharmacy, for record keeping purposes. An Oyster-style card would get around that, but who pays for the cards and the technology (whoever provides it won’t do it free)? Like credit and debit cards, the equipment is expensive, often temperamental, and we really don’t want to let the health service numpties loose with yet another hi-tech system they could screw up.

      I think the prepayment cert is fine for anyone who’s working – indeed, I had no problem paying for my scrips when I was able to work – but giving free scrips to anyone with an incurable condition and unable to work is very simple to administer (no-one with COPD for example, is going to get anything but worse, ditto the various forms of arthritis), and, other than the actual cost of the free scrips, would be dirt-cheap to operate.

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