Rise in prescription charges is 'a tax on ill-health'

Prescription charges are to be increased to £6.50 per item by John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, a move which risks undermining Labour's pre-election attack on the Tories over health charges.

The 10p rise, to be announced on Thursday by Mr Reid, will take the total increase to 70p since Labour came to power in 1997 and leaves the Government open to a charge of hypocrisy.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "This increase in prescription charges is a tax on ill-health. Prescription charges fall particularly heavily on those who just fail to meet the exemption criteria. These people may not be poor enough to qualify for exemption, but may still be put off getting their medicines because of charges."

He added: "Poorer patients could be forgiven for asking what the point of going to the doctor is, when charges may prevent them from getting the prescription made up."

Earl Howe, the Tory spokesman on health in the Lords, said: "It is outrageous and untrue for the Labour Party to claim that we are proposing charging patients for having access to the NHS. Under Labour, the prescription charge has now risen to a serious sum of money. We would have a root and branch review of the whole system." He added: "A number of elderly people have said to me, 'I can afford to pay for my prescription charge but I am given a free prescription'. That is an argument we would need to look at - why should rich people be subsidised? It is people in need that should be subsidised."

Any suggestion that pensioners could be robbed of their exemption from charges, however wealthy they may be, is certain to be seized on by Labour to hit back at the Tories. Ministers have shown no stomach for reforming the system.

The Labour MP Joan Walley called last week for asthma sufferers to be excluded from the charges, but Rosie Winterton, a Health minister, said there were no plans to change the system because there was no consensus over who should be exempt.

More than 80 per cent of patients pay no charge, because they are covered by exemptions. But the anomalies have caused anger among patients who do not qualify for exemption from the charges.

Under the current system, the exemptions include children under 16, anyone aged 60 or over, students up to 18, anyone on income support on jobseeker's allowance and those with a range of ailments such as diabetes and epilepsy. They do not include cancer or many chronic illnesses such as asthma.

The charge was last increased by 10p to £6.40 on 1 April last year, raising £462m for the NHS in England in 2004-05. Prescription charges in Wales have been frozen at £6 since 2000 and will be reduced to £5 in October and phased out altogether by 2007.

* NHS hospitals are castigated today by the Labour-led Commons Select Committee on Health for failing to use cheap drugs to prevent venous thromboembolism (VTE) which kills an estimated 25,000 people a year.

The Labour chairman of the committee, David Hinchliffe said: "Hospital staff and medics are not aware of the extent of VTE. I find it shocking that this has been allowed to go unchecked for so long."

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Polly Borgen at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012
peopleThe Emmy award-winner starred in Cape Fear, the Sopranos and Desperate House Wives
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teaching Assistant required in ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam