Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Was I wrong about free prescriptions?

Nothing worse than when an opposition politician makes you doubt the wisdom of something you've been banging on about for months. It can make you look 'sheepish' at best. But Dr Dai Lloyd has managed it - over the issue of free prescriptions for all. I have been totally convinced that it is a daft idea - which takes £30 million plus out of the NHS budget every year, by providing free prescriptions to the 11% of the population who had to pay, and who could afford to pay. A Labour idea to 'buy' votes with public money. But Dai has sown the seeds of doubt.

We were the only 2 AMs on a panel, arranged by people who work with sufferers of Alzheimer's Disease when the question cropped up. I take some interest in this area of ill health and recently became President of the Montgomeryshire Parkinson's Disease Group. Anyway, Dai's argument goes like this. Ending charging in a system where 89% don't pay will greatly reduce the cost of bureaucracy and remove the inevitable injustices. (So far, the unconvincing 'freebie' argument). But wait for the next bit. Dai also thinks we would save as much or even more of the cost of this by greatly reducing the range of prescriptions that GPs should be allowed to prescribe. This isn't as daft as it sounds at first. Doctors do stop prescribing drugs over time e.g. cough mixture is no longer prescribed. He could have a point.

I am not saying that this is practical. I can imagine the hoo-hah if some drugs were to be refused. But it does shift the basis of the debate. Dr Dai Lloyd is a GP, and he would not have made this point lightly. I wonder whether the other Assembly GP, Dr Brian Gibbons agrees. I should add that this is a case of genuine self questioning - and not some devious 'Rainbow Coalition' softening up move on my part!

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