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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
A new alliance of charities has come together in order to press the Labour party into abolishing prescription charges for long term sick people in England.
 
The Prescription Charges Coalition is an alliance of more than twenty organisations that includes; The British Heart Foundation, Asthma UK, The Terrence Higgins Trust and a host of other leading charities operating together.

An article in Left Foot Forward by Leo Watson of The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, highlights the fact Scotland under the SNP decided to abolish prescription charges, but the policy was sadly never implemented in England.

After carrying out a survey of 4000 people who suffer long term conditions and who did not have an up-front card which cost £100 and provides 'free' prescriptions, the charity alliance found that over one third had not collected a prescription because of the cost.

The move by the charities was praised by MSP Joan McAlpine, who highlighted Labour’s role in prescription charge increases south of the border.

She said: "The NHS should be based on need, which is exactly why the SNP made prescriptions free - like in Wales and now Northern Ireland.  Removing the unfair tax on the sick is one of the cornerstones of why this government remains popular.

"But in England, people have seen price rises every year since 1979. That means every year since Labour came to power too.

"The Prescription Charges Coalition and their research is a very welcome development, and highlights to UK Labour that they must look to the Scottish Parliament and other devolved parliaments as a roadmap for the way forward on health policy."

In the article, Mr Watson writes: "Thanks to ever-increasing prescription costs for the essential medication people with long-term conditions need to keep them well, or even alive, many are facing the stark choice between food, clothing, bills or their prescriptions."

The calls by the charities follows yet another recent rise in prescription charges in England that saw them go up to £7.85 for each separate item.

Ms McAlpine, the SNP MSP for South of Scotland said the intervention by charities was uncomfortable for the Scottish Labour party, which under leader Johann Lamont has established a Commission looking into the affordability of key benefits that includes free prescriptions.  Ms Lamont has claimed that free prescriptions is part of Scotland’s "something for nothing” culture.

Ms McAlpine added: "This causes Labour in Scotland’s Cuts Commission a huge headache.  Johann Lamont says one thing, but the charities and grassroots Labour supporters say another.

"There must not be a tax on the sick, and that is recognised in the medical profession, as the BMA have already outlined their opposition to charges.

"Thanks to the SNP Government, Scotland is - and will remain – a prescription charge-free zone.  The Labour leadership in Scotland should wake up to this immediately, and reverse their plan to tax the sick through their ill-thought out Cuts Commission."

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