I started uni in England a (very) short while ago, and being from Wales, I thought there would be few differences. I was right – it wasn’t exactly a culture shock when the street signs no longer had Welsh on them and dragons were nowhere to be seen. But when I went to the doctor’s, one thing certainly did shock me.
I’d left my asthma pump at home, and had to be prescribed a new one by the Student Health Service to get a replacement. Being told that I was lucky I’d come in before my nineteenth birthday puzzled me – but then they said that after that date, I’d have to pay for my prescription.
Despite being in full time education. Despite being in Britain.
It doesn’t really seem that being charged £9 for a prescription has made much of a wave in the area of public scandals, although to be fair it’s been around long enough that Aneurin Bevan himself gave the charge as a reason for his resignation. At first glance, yes, maybe I’m being a bit over dramatic – it’s only £9 after all. And I’m a student, so I’m pretty sure I don’t pay taxes. It’s a handy way to support the NHS at point of use, and shouldn’t we all want to do that?
But there’s a reason why taxes are calculated according to individual income – blanket charges don’t work. Especially for something like the NHS; like in America, this particular blanket charge puts people off looking after their own health. Don’t believe me? Believe The Pharmaceutical Journal. They said in 2017,
“One in three people of working age have not collected a prescription because of cost.”
I understand that maybe it’s not all bad, since people who have to get a large number of prescriptions can save money by essentially paying a subscription to prescriptions, using the NHS “prescription prepayment certificate”. But is this really what we’ve come to? Paying for medicine like it’s a magazine? As if it’s not essential? It’s bad enough that people have to pay the Tampon Tax as if periods are something we can help having. But if you have a chronic illness, you have to shell out £100 a year to simply stay on Earth? Doesn’t sound like a very Nationalised Health Service to me.
There’s another broken safety net that the Tories have so far allowed – students on low incomes are exempted from paying for prescriptions. This safety net is of course a positive thing, but the reason I call it broken is because thanks to the Tories, students have to shell out £9k a year for our education. For those of us who don’t have that sort of money lying around, that means we live our daily lives getting into greater and greater debt. We’ve got our student loans, of course, but considering that we have to pay that (average of £36k) back at the end of the four years, does it really count as income? Not to mention the number of people whose loans aren’t enough to keep them out of their overdrafts at the end of the month.
So I wonder, is it morally sound to make someone who is already in huge amounts of debt pay to retain their health? The Royal College of GPs certainly doesn’t think so – at least when it comes to student mental health, they think we shouldn’t be charged. Like it says in the Newsbeat article on the matter,
“If you get multiple prescriptions, which can happen in the treatment of mental health, the costs add up.”
The process of trial and error in mental health treatment means that it can get very expensive. And not knowing how many you’ll have to get through to find the right one means that most people, let alone students, would be less likely to take advantage of the prescription prepayment certificate.
What’s more, I haven’t even mentioned the slippery slope that charging people for their prescriptions could be the start of. Aneurin Bevan said in his resignation speech;
“Those who live their lives in mountainous and rugged countries are always afraid of avalanches, and they know that avalanches start with the movement of a very small stone”
So, in other words, this sort of thing could snowball. Whilst yes, there hasn’t been an “avalanche” since Bevan’s speech in 1951, with Boris Johnson overseeing things, it’s worrying to think what might happen. These charges are already in place, ready as an excuse for him to charge us more and more at the point of use until our NHS becomes just a HS.
In my opinion, medical care has been a human right ever since it became widely and readily available. Let’s not let that right be taken away. At least, any more than it already has been.