It is national, a service and, above all, free. The free part of that equation has become rather more blurred since the late 1940s inception of the NHS, as those people who pick up their prescriptions will know. Unless you have an exemption, you have to fork out towards the cost, which means that if you have a condition which needs regular treatment through prescription drugs, those costs are going to mount up.
A group called the Prescription Charges Coalition says that, the way things are going, by 2025 a single prescription item will cost £10.15. That means that something that is intended to improve your health that you get from your local chemist will cost you roughly the same as a packet of cigarettes which is considered so harmful to health that it attracts punitive taxes which comprise the bulk of the purchase price.
According to Laura Cockram, who chairs the coalition – a group of 20 organisations calling for the abolition of prescription charges for people with long-term conditions – it amounts to an extra cost to stay well, and as prescription costs soar there will be some who face the choice of picking up vital medication or actually eating.
The list of exemptions, the coalition says, has not changed since 1968, with the exception of the addition of cancer in 2009.
The coronavirus pandemic and the way different parts of the UK have responded to it has also brought into focus the "national" bit of the National Health Service. Today the reality is that the service you receive will differ depending on whether you live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
In England people have to pay prescription charges. Elsewhere in the UK you do not. People in England are paying their taxes to fund the NHS just the same as people living in other parts of the UK, so this is an unfair, discriminatory and divisive additional tax on those who happen to live in England for the privilege of trying to stay well.
If the UK really is a union of equals, how can it be right to have the English patient singled out like this?