Thursday 28 February 2008

Prescription for the disease of capitalism

After all I've said about charities, one of them - the Citizens Advice Bureau - has made a recommendation I wholeheartedly agree with. Namely, the scrapping of prescription charges (BBC News: Prescription charge review call).

Let's face it, people don't generally fall ill for a laugh, and it's bad enough being ill without having to pay for the privilege. What's more, there's some rather unfair anomolies in the prescriptions system; A BBC News article from February 2006 ('Scrap cancer prescription charges') details how people with some conditions (eg diabetes and epilepsy) get free prescriptions, while those with other conditions (eg cancer and multiple sclerosis) do not. Surely charging people for the drugs necessary to treat their conditions, or bring them under control, is rather discriminatory.

Also in the news today, nicotine patches are now approved for people under the age of 18 (BBC News: Child nicotine patches approved). This is very welcome, albeit rather late; the timing is especially bad, being several months after the smoking age was raised to 18. Surely, if the government had to raise the age for buying tobacco (a move which I personally opposed), it would have been better Nicotine Replacement Therapy to have been available beforehand, so young people could have had a chance to quit smoking before the new law came into effect!

Still, while the government are encouraging us to get healthy - by cracking down on smoking, drinking, and what we eat - maybe now they will heed the CAB's advice and scrap prescription charges. That would be good news. However, if this government acted with anything resembling consistency, it would be rare news. So rare, in fact, it would probably be followed by a weather report forecasting blizzards in Hell :-(

So, predictably, government ministers in England are still refusing to drop the charge (although in Scotland and Wales, where Labour has to share power with other parties, free prescriptions have already been or are being introduced). Despite the fact that the charge puts people off collecting their prescriptions - hardly a recipe for a healthy nation!

Instead, they talk about 'cost neutral' ways of tweaking the system. Charming ... there was no talk of cost-neutrality when it came to the dangerous Trident nuclear weapons replacement, the murderous Iraq war, the bailing out of failed banks and financial institutions, etc. But when it comes to making people healthy, even saving lives, this government - allegedly a Labour government - is too mean to supply the necessary funding.

They also bleat that abolishing prescription charges 'would significantly reduce the money available to deliver other health priorities'. Well, I can suggest a few measures to enable not only universal free prescriptions, but also an end to the prescriptions 'postcode lottery' and an increase in the range of treatments available.

First, there's the obvious; tax the rich, pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and scrap Trident.

Then, scrap the wasteful PFI projects - in which private companies build hospitals and clinic, and the taxpayer ends up paying not only for the running of the hospitals, but also for the profits raked in by the privateers involved.

Finally, nationalise the drug companies - and stop them from milking not only the NHS, but anyone who buys their over-priced medecines. Drug prices are kept high by the patenting system which ensures they have a monopoly on their drugs for many years, despite the social implications of their legalised profiteering. The effects of this are even more stark in the Third World, where producers of generic drugs to treat diseases such as AIDS, have been shut down for breach of 'intellectual property' laws.

All this will mean taking on the capitalist system - that is the only cure for the epidemic of greed and corruption which is sweeping through not only the health system, but through all of society.

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