I thank Theresa Villiers for raising her points.
Since 2010, we have seen the Government cut health services and social care by £7 billion. Because of this, we MPs have been seeing local cuts in our individual constituencies. Last week, a constituent of mine came to visit me during my surgery about a new policy that has come into effect. The policy states that a patient will no longer be given prescriptions for over-the-counter medicines for a range of health conditions, even if they qualify for a free prescription. I would say that that is a public health matter.
There are 33 conditions that are part of that policy, from acute sore throat, excessive sweating and period pains to warts and verrucas. My constituent is 64 and has various health conditions that stop her from working. She is on universal credit, which gives her £317 a month, which is much less than she would earn under the Government’s national minimum wage if she were working part time. Because of her low income, she has had to use up all her savings and even pawn her jewellery, which holds sentimental value, to make ends meet. She recently went to her doctors for her hay fever medication and was told that she is no longer entitled to a free prescription. I feel that that is a public health matter. When she disputed the claim, she was told that under the NHS England guidelines they could no longer provide free prescriptions for mild to moderate hay fever.
As a nurse of 40 years, I am dismayed at how poorly NHS England and the Government publicised the consultation. Many people were unaware of this and it just sums up what the Government and their Departments seem to do. Backdoor and underhanded changes: these have been the steps the Government have been taking over the last nine years to move towards privatising the NHS. It brings me to tears to see the changes that NHS England is bringing in, which affect the most vulnerable. Socioeconomically deprived groups too often face the prospect of poorer access to healthcare, a public health matter.
We know that some of the conditions mentioned in the guidance are the first symptoms of more serious conditions and, if diagnosed too late, they can cause long-term complications for the patient, a public health matter. Did NHS England take into consideration single parents and those on low income who are on universal credit? How are they going to afford to pay for medication for themselves and their children under this new policy? That is a public health matter. It is unfair to them—having the right to free prescriptions was their safety net and one less problem to think about. Is this part of the Government’s NHS 10-year plan? To punish the most vulnerable individuals in society? The Government need to review this policy again. It is short-sighted and will have repercussions for their 10-year plan within the public health agenda.