Labour has vowed to scrap prescription charges in England if the party wins the next general election, as part of a wider plan to tackle health inequalities and expand universalism in public services.
Speaking at the Party Conference on Saturday, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathon Ashworth MP said the current cost of prescriptions in England is putting people off from seeking medical help and taking their medication.
He said that putting an end to widening health equalities would be “an absolute priority” for the next Labour Government, “because those people who don’t take their medicines present with even more serious conditions later on”.
“People shouldn’t be forced to choose between paying for a prescription or risking their lives”, he added.
England remains the only country in the UK where you can still be charged for prescriptions, although exemptions provide relief for some low-income households and those who suffer with certain medical conditions.
Labour says the current system places a “particular burden on people with long term conditions like asthma and chronic kidney disease who can fork out up to £104 a year on medication, or even more if they do not opt in to the NHS pre-payment discount scheme”.
A survey of health professionals by the Royal College of Nursing discovered that 87% of patients have skipped taking their medication because of the £9 cost of a prescription.
Meanwhile, Asthma UK found that three in four people with asthma in England struggle to afford their prescriptions, while more than half are forced to cut back on their medication because of the price.
Jonathan Ashworth MP said: “Not only do people suffer illnesses and the effects of illnesses more than they need to but, in the long term, it costs the NHS more money because those people who don’t take their medicines present with even more serious conditions later on.”
He continued: “The NHS could actually save £20 million a year if they lifted prescription charges for people with just two conditions: Parkinson’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
“Labour made prescriptions free for people with cancer in 2008. The Tories have done nothing and exempt conditions have been otherwise unchanged for 50 years.
“People with Addison’s disease, chronic kidney disease, strokes, heart failure and a host of other long-term conditions must still pay for their medicine.
“In government, Labour will simply make all prescriptions free of charge.”