I have been contacted by a number of constituents as part of Asthma UK's campaign to stop asthma prescription charges.
A survey conducted by Asthma UK found that 76% of respondents felt that they sometimes, or always, struggled to afford their asthma prescriptions, with 57% of respondents reported skipping their asthma medication because of the cost of their prescriptions, 82% of whom said that their symptoms got worse as a result.
I have to say that as someone who suffers from asthma, I fully recognise the impact that this can have on someone's wellbeing and the importance of being able to have access to inhalers. However, as I am over sixty I now receive free prescriptions – a fact that I simply cannot justify given that many people on much lower incomes have to pay the full prescription charge. The condition could be the same but because of a difference in age - and not necessarily wage - I am entitled to a free prescription. This highlights the inequality in our flawed system. How can we possibly justify this perk when an 18 year old with a long-term condition has to pay for theirs?
Prescription charges were first introduced in 1952 following the significant increase in the demand for healthcare and in particular pharmaceutical services after the NHS was established in 1948. Today, however, it is clear that the current system of charging is unfair. Those with some conditions get their prescriptions for free while others with chronic conditions do not. There is an urgent need for reform and for a new overall financial settlement for the NHS and social care.
That is why I have led a cross-party group of MPs calling on the Government to embrace a cross-party process and establish an NHS and Care Convention to engage with the public and with staff with a view to agreeing a new long-term settlement for both the NHS and the care system. We need to confront the inefficient use of resources and the need for more funds. It should not be beyond the wit of man or woman to achieve a modern efficient and effective health care system but this is a significant failure of public policy at present.
I have also proposed plans for a dedicated NHS and Care Tax, shown on your pay packet, with all the money raised being used to support our vital health and care services. We have to be honest about the scale of this crisis. If we conclude that we all need to pay a little extra tax, then we must be prepared to say it.
I wrote out to Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to put forward the concerns raised with me by constituents and I include below a copy of the response I received.