Extensive arrangements are already in place to help people afford NHS prescriptions. Those include a broad range of prescription charge exemptions, for which somebody with asthma may apply.
More than 90% of people on low incomes say they struggle to afford their prescriptions, and 71% told Asthma UK they skipped their asthma medication due to cost. Given the health inequalities in this country, will the Minister investigate that injustice?
People on low incomes who do not qualify for an exemption may be eligible for either full or partial help with prescription charges through the NHS low-income scheme. In addition, for those who do not qualify for that, the prescription pre-payment certificate is available, under which everybody can get all the prescriptions they need for only £2 a week.
Of the 300,000 who have missed out on their prescriptions, a quarter have had a flare-up of their asthma and 13% have ended up in hospital. Does the Minister not accept that prescription charges simply are not cost-effective and should be abolished, as they have been in Scotland?
Almost 90% of prescription items dispensed in the community in England are free of charge. That includes medicines for the treatment of asthma. The fact is that people who, like me, suffer from asthma and need those prescriptions have to decide, as taxpayers—as the people funding our NHS—whether we would rather contribute to those prescriptions or see the underfunding we have seen in Scotland, where GPs have been underfunded by almost £660 million over the last four years. It is a case of priorities.
I miss the former Minister, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), but commend him for his principled stance.
The Minister is missing the point on prescription charges. It is now more than 50 years since the eligibility criteria for medical exemption charges were reviewed, and next week prescription charges will rise again, placing a financial burden on many who require regular medication for long-term conditions. Does she agree that it is high time the Government moved to address the very many anomalies in the system? How can it be fair that patients with some chronic illnesses get free prescriptions for all their ailments, while asthma sufferers pay for everything? When will she review this unfair system?
We all miss my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), so I thank the hon. Lady for her comments.
Since prescription charges were introduced, Governments of all colours have decided that some patients should pay prescription charges to contribute to the cost of running the NHS, but almost 90% of prescription items are dispensed in the community free of charge, which I think the hon. Lady will agree is an enormous amount.