While the Treasury attempts to kick-start the British economy with interest rate cuts and quantitative easing to the tune of £75 billion, last week the Department of Health revealed plans to raise the cost of NHS prescriptions in England to £7.20 from April, while cancer patients would now be exempt from the charge. Health minster, Dawn Primarolo stated that this rise would bring in a ‘valuable’ £437 million in 2009/1.
The NHS budget for 2007/8 currently stands at £96 billion; in comparison, £437 million is a tiny fraction. This money could easily be rescued from the NHS dustbin by halting outrageous waste on huge increases on higher salaries, meaningless 5-a-day coordinators and the failing £12.7 billion Connecting For Health IT system for example.
At a time when household budgets are already stretched, it is unfair and unreasonable for the government to increase a ‘tax on the sick’. While only 10% of prescriptions come under the charge, this may prove enough of a disincentive for struggling families to reject the prescription, become increasingly unwell and consequently end up costing the NHS more in the long run. Similarly, these exemptions do not support the increasing number of families who sit just above the prescription exemption.
In further insult to the English taxpayer, counterparts in Wales saw prescription fees scrapped by the Welsh Assembly in 2007. Likewise, Northern Ireland prescription costs were reduced to £3 in January and are due to be abolished by 2010, while Scotland are to see their costs reduced to £3 in April in an attempt to phase out the charge by 2011.
Not only does it seem imbalanced that the rest of the British Isles will have free prescriptions in only 2 years, this has also come at cost to the English taxpayer. In December 2006, “the Scottish Government announced it would set aside £97m to abolish prescription charges. Once the charges have gone, the policy is expected to cost £57m a year.” The Scottish Parliament intend to fund this deficit through the £30 billion block grant that Scotland receives under the Barnett formula. The Barnett formula was introduced in 1978 as a temporary measure to redress the slower growth in the region. It seeks to ensure Scotland receives a proportion of all new public spending in England. Thirty years on, and despite a falling allocation, public service spending was £1, 644 higher in Scotland in 2007/8 than England. The Barnett formula also applies to Wales and Northern Ireland where gaps in an increase in spending in 2007/8 were £1,042 and £2,254 respectively.
In order to redress this balance, it is essential that the government reform the outdated Barnett Formula to the benefit of the English taxpayer, who has long suffered as a result of errors in judgment and budget brought about by devolution, starting with the abolishment of NHS prescription charges. British taxpayers already pay vast sums of tax to fund a wasteful health service, piling more charges on top of that big bill isn’t remotely fair.