I don’t know whether any of you noticed the angle of spin being delivered to us in England at the end of March?
I refer of course to the then impending prescription fee rise to an eye-watering £7.65p per item due to kick in appropriately enough on April 1st of this year. And as this is the bizarre ‘Union-of-Equals’ world, you can be absolutely sure that the increase was relevant to only one geographical area.
Yet again and ever so entirely predictably, it was the people of England who were expected to pick up the tab in order to pick up their tabs’ (so to speak) from their local chemists, even though prescriptions are free, free, free, gratis, gratis, gratis, zilcho, zilcho, zilcho in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
There was no doubt about it, this rather spectacular example of inequality in the fabled Union of Equals would need some pretty special selling to the English public by the full complement of the entire Ministerial team at the Department of Health. It was a two pronged attack. Firstly, Ministers stressed that 90% of prescriptions were free! Secondly, these ever-so educated men from the Ministry sort of forgot to mention the geographical confines of their responsibilities – and hence upon exactly who would be paying the full £7.65p per prescriptive item.
So have the men from the (English) Ministry of (English) Health been economical with the truth? Well obviously, that goes without saying. If it’s bad news pertaining only to England and English people then they simply never mention the ‘E’ word – so that’s a given. But what about the ’90% of all prescriptions are free’ claim? Are they including the free-for-everyone free-for-alls in Scotland Wales & Northern Ireland?
We’ve decided to conduct an experiment to see just how difficult (or easy) it is to get free prescriptions in England. Judging by the 90% figures quoted by every member of the Health Ministry team, it should be a cakewalk….. Shouldn’t it?
One of our associates is a low paid worker, earning way below the average salary of around £25,000. In fact his per annum take home pay is around £10,000. He lives in northern England with his wife. His kids are all grown up and independent. Our man is in his fifties and has a few health problems such as mild arthritis for which he gets repeat prescriptions on a monthly basis. This man has never asked for anything from the state – until now. And with our encouragement, he is applying for free prescriptions as of right – and to join the apparent 90% of the English population who are already benefitting from the scheme …
So how did he fare? Well, this being England means that when anyone does an Oliver Twist and actually asks for ‘more’ – a massive means testing state apparatus swings into action. Our subject must indeed prove that he is poor enough to qualify for free prescriptions while just up the M6, the Duke of Argyle, the castle-owning millionaire is tootling along from his grouse moor to his local chemist to pick up his free prescription – no means testing for him or any other Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish millionaires…..
Back to our man and his attempt to get free prescriptions. He first went to his local chemist to enquire as to what to do. He was given a HC1 form. This is a weighty tome – a 20 page A4 brochure of noseyness to fill in and by doing so the applicant, reveals every aspect of his personal and financial life to the state.
Anyway, 4 hours later and it is done. The form is filled in, every single penny our volunteer has to his name has been declared and allocated to its little box in the big form. The monster that is HC1 is placed in the pre-printed envelope and despatched for judgement by some jobsworth bodkin at the NHS Business Services Authority in Newcastle.
Our volunteer is waiting for the King Solomon moment to plop through the letterbox and land on his hall carpet. Will he get the free prescriptions certificate? Or will he fail – judged to be not quite poor enough to qualify? We’ll let you know how he gets on.