Holyrood vote exposes Tory splits on free prescriptions

The decision by MSPs to provide for free prescriptions north of the border not only sees the enactment of a key SNP manifesto pledge, but highlights the divisions within the UK Conservative party on the issue of free prescriptions.

The decision by MSPs to provide for free prescriptions north of the border not only sees the enactment of a key SNP manifesto pledge, but highlights the divisions within the UK Conservative party on the issue of free prescriptions.

Responding to the vote, Scotland’s health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, said:

“Prescription charges are a tax on ill health, and can be a barrier to good health for too many people. This Scottish government is committed to building a healthier nation; through tackling the health inequalities that still scar our nation and supporting people to live longer and lead healthier lives.”

The move follows a 2007 vote by Assembly Members in Wales to provide free prescriptions, followed by the same decision being taken in 2008 by Northern Ireland’s health minister, Michael McGimpsey. But could England be next in line for free prescriptions, in the same way it became the last country to introduce a ban on smoking in public places?

During the 2010 general election, Gordon Brown faced fierce criticisms after Labour leaflets suggested the Tories were preparing to end Labour’s policy of free prescriptions for the elderly. During heated clashes in the second TV debate, asked by Mr Brown to clarify whether he would maintain the policy, David Cameron categorically insisted:

“Well let me do it right now. We’ll keep them.”

And yet, following yesterday’s vote in Holyrood, and elections to the devolved administrations now just weeks away, Mr Cameron’s promises to the UK have fallen on deaf ears to his colleagues in Edinburgh and Cardiff.

In 2009, the Welsh Conservatives pledged to reverse the policy of free prescriptions should they form the next Assembly government in May, and in Scotland too, the Conservatives have vehemently opposed their introduction, with the party’s Chief Whip, David McLetchie, having previously taken a swipe at first minister Alex Salmond by declaring the move:

“Alex in wonderland economics.”

However, Conservative opposition has put them at odds with patients’ organisations, such as Diabetes UK Scotland. Speaking following the vote in Scotland, the organisation’s national director north of the border, Jane-Claire Judson, explained:

“Introducing free prescriptions for all will mean that people who treat their diabetes through lifestyle management will no longer have to pay for any associated treatments.  This is important as we know from our own survey work that a fifth of people in this situation would be forced into making a choice to reduce their diabetes medication and a sixth would not be able to purchase all the medication they need.

“Both lowering cholesterol levels and managing blood pressure are important for managing diabetes and this move will improve the health of thousands of people living with diabetes across Scotland.”

With the Conservative-led government in Westminster having also put on hold moves to introduce free prescriptions for those with long term conditions, the omens for England do not look good. However, the vote in Scotland has once again reinforced the opportunities that devolution has provided for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to pursue their own unique policy objectives.

With the Scotland Bill due to give Scotland greater fiscal autonomy, and today’s referendum on granting the Welsh Assembly stronger law making powers of its own, the opportunities for the devolved bodies to pursue divergent policy objectives and protect their nations from the worst effects of the ConDem coalition’s policies look set to be strengthened.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

4 Responses to “Holyrood vote exposes Tory splits on free prescriptions”

  1. Andy Shaw

    Scottish Tories every bit as bad as their colleagues south of the border: http://bit.ly/hDAfvc – not surprised though tbh.

  2. Daniel Pitt

    Holyrood vote exposes Tory splits on free prescriptions http://bit.ly/geQ7sE #ConDemNation #Scotland

  3. David Mullen

    Well done Scotland. No doubt the tabloids will start moaning about the Scots being subsidy junkies. As a Scot living in England I will be unable to take advantage of this, but I think people should lobby their MPs on this issue as our health is too important to be left at the mercy of the pharmaceutical companies.

  4. David Mullen

    Well done Scotland. No doubt the tabloids will start moaning about the Scots being subsidy junkies. As a Scot living in England I will be unable to take advantage of this, but I think people should lobby their MPs on this issue as our health is too important to be left to the mercy of the pharmaceutical companies.

Leave a Reply