It’s no surprise that NHS bosses are proposing new measures to work within their ever-more-squeezed budgets. We’ve already seen restrictions on non-urgent surgeries for smokers and obese patients in some clinical commissioning groups and cutbacks on IVF treatment. Now, buried over the Christmas break, it emerged NHS England is proposing to cut free prescriptions for over-the-counter remedies, including treatments for conjunctivitis, haemorrhoids, minor burns and back pain. The move would reduce costs by £136m.
It’s sensible to look at how efficient the NHS’s spending is – for example, even as the Patients Association expressed concern about the proposal, it pointed out it was counterintuitive for the NHS to be paying pounds for medication if the individual can buy it for pence – but we should be deeply wary about any move that rolls back healthcare in the name of money saving.
By definition of who currently relies on free prescriptions, cutting this service means largely targeting the very people who need financial help to stay well: from pensioners, disabled people and jobseekers to young people in education. If you haven’t got enough money to feed your children or pay the rent, spending £8.60 on a prescription is a luxury you can’t afford.
Well, yes, quite. Given that you won’t in fact pay £8.60 for a prescription you don’t get or use this does mean that, yet again, the numbers of Frances Ryan do not add up.