Scotland’s Health Minister Andy Kerr has been plunged into a row after he rejected moves to abolish the £6.50 National Health Service prescription charge for everyone.

That is not the way forward, he said, after the Scottish Executive’s Health Committee narrowly backed the Abolition of NHS Prescription Charge Billl, which is sponsored by a Scottish Socialist Party Member of the Scottish Parliament but has cross-party support.

Retaining the present system is not an option, as it exempts individuals suffering from some chronic illnesses, but not others, and some but not all people on low incomes, said Committee Convenor, MSP Roseanna Cunningham.

The panel criticized some financial evidence put forward by the bill’s sponsor, MSP Colin Fox, and backed the Executive Finance Committee’s view that he had over-estimated savings from abolishing the charges and underestimated likely costs. Nevertheless, most members felt Parliament should approve the bill’s general principles.

However, said Mr Kerr, it remains Executive policy that patients who can afford to contribute to NHS costs should do so. Rather than covering the costs of those who can afford to pay, it would be better to help those most in need, he added.

Around half the Scottish population do not pay the charge, but they have many more prescriptions than those who do; in 2004, just 8% of Scottish prescriptions required payment.

  • In Wales, a phased abolition of prescription charges was approved in February 2003; they will finally disappear in>