Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Free Prescriptions for All - Good or Bad?

Big debate of the week was on the Government's proposal to make prescriptions free for all - rather than the 85% of people that have them free already. This wasn't a straightforward issue for me - and I was pleased that we decided to abstain on it. This decision 'shot the Government's fox' because Rhodri Morgan was planning on saying that the Tories would re-introduce them. Well, we wouldn't. So there Rhodri! It was an election gimmick in 2003 and he hoped it would do the trick again.

If I'm honest, I've always thought there was a case for arguing that there is a better way of controlling demand for drugs than by prescription charges. What's dishonest, in my opinion is to pretend that there will not be a replacement mechanism to control the cost - and at present it looks as if the free prescriptions will probably translate into reduced access to new drugs. The problem is that the Assembly budget is finite and one extra pound spent in one area is one less pound spent somewhere else.

The most attractive aspect of the new policy is its 'universalism', a general principal that I am not opposed to. I do not like means testing where it can be avoided and I've always believed the ridiculous beaurocracy involved in Government charging creates massive waste and cheating. In passing, I have always thought it would be a good idea to abolish the TV licence and just fund the BBC directly. Jonathon Ross wouldn't be paid his unjustified zillions if this were to be the case. Its not as if the BBC isn't already terrified of the Government after the Hutton Report. But I'm sure this view must be against party policy so let me be clear this is a personal opinion.

But we can't get away from the fact that the money to pay for the ending of charges for people who are able to afford it is being transferred, however obscurely, to a cut in healthcare spending somewhere else, leaves me still believing that this is a wrong move. But it cannot be reversed - and in due course it will be copied in England. This really was a big decision.

1 comment:

lads said...

when has Party Policy ever bothered you Glyn! Long may you continue to say what you think.