This week in the Senedd a deep difference of opinion manifested itself. It concerned the topic of free prescriptions and health policy. The division, I suspect, will end up being played out across other areas of policy too.
Welsh Conservatives this week announced our commitment to investing extra resources in hospices and stroke services. To pay for this, and to invest money in what I believe are two areas in desperate need of resources (even the Health Minister has described the stroke service in Wales as “patchy”) we would ask those people who could afford it, to pay a modest contribution towards their prescriptions.
Prior to the Assembly Government’s scrapping of charges, 93% of prescriptions issued in Wales were already free.
The same people as before would still get free prescriptions under our policy, with this also being extended to cancer patients. We are currently consulting on what the contribution would be.
Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour completely oppose this policy. So too does Peter Black for the Liberal Democrats, or at least I think he did. It is a reversal of the line his party has previously taken and espoused recently by Jenny Randerson.
The Lib Dem position is a veritable dog's dinner not to say a pig's breakfast. Their revolving door manifesto on this issue caused amazement across the chamber on Wednesday. Only recently Jenny Randerson referred to free prescriptions as 'a time bomb for the NHS', 'disastrous', as something that should only be given to 'those who could not afford them'.
Well, voters will be able to vote for the Lib Dems whether they believe in free prescriptions or are resolutely against the policy as the Lib Dems seem to be fighting both sides of the argument!
Wales budget will be cut by £416mn over the next two years, so tough but necessary decisions on spending have to be made.
Labour’s free prescriptions cost the Welsh health budget £30mn last year, with that figure continuing to rise.
This policy is unsustainable and with the reintroduction of charging for some, we are prioritising the health budget.
The important policy and attitude difference of the Labour Plaid parties and the Welsh Conservatives as the Official Opposition is now manifest and lies at the heart of our approaches.