Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Prescription fee to tax the sick is morally wrong

So, while the rest of the UK is moving away from taxing the sick, our health minister decides now is the time to reverse his party's pre-election pledge on prescription charges and undo one of his party's major achievements.

Edwin Poots, whose party claimed not six months ago that there were more than sufficient funds for the health budget, now appears to be unsure, seeking to charge for everything and anything: prescriptions, hospital car-parking, caesareans and more.

Mr Poots' plan, if there actually is one, appears to revolve around the discredited notion that ability to pay should dictate your access to treatment.

Now, clearly, with the increase in the medicine budget, there is a need to address waste. But there appears to be no recognition that a much wiser approach to charging for medication would be to limit free prescriptions to prescription-only drugs. Limit drugs, not people or conditions.

For instance, if there is an abuse, say where GPs or dentists are writing prescriptions for toothpaste, paracetamol or sun-cream, then deal with that: make it impossible for these products to be provided free-of-charge. In fact, make it impossible to get any medication that is available in a supermarket on prescription.

Taxing the sick is morally wrong when the same Executive has just opted to reduce airfare duty for high-earning business executives. Taxing the sick is morally wrong when we still refuse to charge for water. Taxing the sick is morally wrong when the Executive is prepared to fund the 'renovation' of sports stadia to the tune of £65m.

CLIVE KIRKWOOD

Belfast

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