Helen Martin: Most of us can stump up for our own aspirin

A record-breaking heatwave is not the best time to undergo breast cancer surgery '“ or probably any other operation.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 30th July 2018, 6:00 am
The cost of prescriptions has gone up 25 per cent in Scotland over the last decade. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The cost of prescriptions has gone up 25 per cent in Scotland over the last decade. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Before my scheduled theatre date on July 11 (needless to say, the Western General, not the Playhouse), I was pottering in the garden, weeding beds, reading my Kindle, wearing shorts and strappy T-shirts and developing the best tan I’d ever had.

After discharge on the 18th, I’ve spent most time indoors away from the Mediterranean-type sun. Even outdoor shade is too hot. I’m not allowed to drive for six weeks – just as well because being in a car is like stepping into an oven. At least if I’m being chauffeured I can stick my head out of the window and enjoy breeze relief.

Vacuuming (I don’t have a robot) is also out of bounds, as is most heavy-duty housework, carrying anything heavier than a little handbag, or reaching too far.

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Day-time TV becomes a bit of a sick addiction. But at least there is plenty of time to think. And the most obvious topics for me now are the NHS, and the changing climate.

The NHS is stretched, to such an extent that pathology results can currently take up to three weeks because of staff shortages.

But put that in perspective by recognising that a mastectomy and reconstruction in the US costs up to $58,000 (£44,000), in South Africa it’s at least 202,000 Rand (£11,630), and here in Scotland it costs us nothing, thanks to the NHS.

Politicians simply don’t spend enough public money on the service and don’t want to start a ring-fenced extra NHS tax. But how about using our own options? The cost of prescriptions has gone up 25 per cent in the last decade in Scotland where we don’t pay a penny.

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Bill for prescriptions in Scotland rises by 25% in the last decade to £1.3bn

Some vital drugs are expensive. But among the most commonly dispensed pills are paracetamol and aspirin/ ibuprofen, each of which costs about 40 to 45p for a pack of 16. Most people already have them in their medicine cabinet.

We have a growing wealth gap but the majority of us wouldn’t even notice the expenditure of 45p every two days.

If we want to help the NHS, why not tell our GP/consultant we’ll buy them ourselves, along with other affordable over-the-counter medicines and treatments rather than having them prescribed on the NHS?

The Western General gives breast cancer patients post-operative bras (as far as I can figure out, worth around £22), and comfort under-arm cushions supplied by a charity. Those of us who can afford to can opt to pay that value back into the unit’s funds by way of a donation.

Even if that doesn’t work its way back into central NHS funding it will go to good use. For example, predictions among experts now conclude that this year’s hot summer temperatures could become the norm as a result of climate change. Hospital wards like our homes, will need cooling fans, pillow coolers and other means to cope with the heat.

For those on a tight budget, free prescriptions and recovery aids are a wonderful national asset. It wouldn’t be right to scrap that. More funding from the government is vital. Meanwhile anyone who is able to help, even by buying their own paracetamol, can do their bit.