Why do Scotland get free prescriptions?

Written by Chris Thornton | 30th of August 2023
Why do Scotland get free prescriptions?

Scotland is a very forward-thinking country and leans more to the left of the political spectrum and towards socialism than our neighbours in England. Here in Scotland, there are many benefits we are proud of, much to the chagrin of many uninformed English people.

"Why do the Scots get all this free stuff and we don't!? "

"Why is English money going to Scotland to give them freebies!?"

The answer of course is a little more complicated than Scots just getting "free stuff" over other countries in the union. Everyone is entitled to free NHS prescriptions in Scotland, it doesn't matter if it's a short course of antibiotics, long term medical conditions such as Diabetes or even painkillers after a major operation - there is no cost to the patient at any stage.

I feel this is fantastic that the government covers these costs, it seems highly unfair that expensive drugs or operations could push people into poverty due to no fault of their own. In America, people with Diabetes can be driven to bankruptcy based solely on their need for insulin if they cannot afford or qualify for health insurance. Scotland leads the way in the world by helping its citizens shoulder their health requirements instead of burdening them.

The United Kingdom has a National Health Service (NHS), Scotland has its own separate National Health Service from England. When the NHS was founded in 1948, there were no NHS prescription charges but in the early 1950s fees were introduced to help with funding.

Scottish Government & Devolution

In 2011, Scotland joined Wales and Northern Ireland in abolishing prescription fees at a cost of £57 million per year. The SNP government ended prescription charges as they were "a tax on ill-health".

The Scottish Parliament was able to abolish NHS prescription charges as health powers were devolved to Scotland through a process called Devolution. Westminster in England is the main parliament for the United Kingdom, but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have gained more autonomy over time and therefore had the power to make changes to their health services.

The Scottiwsh Parliament

So does England pay for Scotland's prescriptions?

No. Simply put the Scottish Government uses the money available to them to give us free prescriptions in Scotland. We do not receive additional money in the Barnett formula to cover this, it is just a benefit of having a government willing to mitigate the costs of ill health to their constituents.

Scotland has always been a net contributor to the United Kingdom, not a drain on England. We just prioritise the money we have on other things that help people instead.

Prescription charges in England

Really the question should be, "why doesn't England get free prescriptions?", English people should be asking their MP's this and demanding the same for their people. In England, the average cost per prescription is £9.35.

For some conditions, a medical exemption certificate can be obtained in England to get free prescriptions and help with health costs, but there are more hoops to jump through than the simple blanket policy active in Scotland.  The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has said it is "unacceptable" the amount people in England who are forced to pay prescription charges.

Are prescriptions free for all in Scotland?

Yes, if you live in Scotland, you pay no prescription charges whatever age group you are.

Free Prescriptions | NHS low income scheme

What other benefits are there for living in Scotland? What do Scots get "free"?

Of course, none of the items below is truly free as they are provided as part of the money raised through taxation, but the money is spent wisely on helping everyone in Scotland.

Free tuition fees

Scottish students pay nothing for tuition fees. So for example, if a student in Scotland would like to study at college or university, whatever their chosen field, will pay nothing for their course. This is a massive boon to people in Scotland as there is always a way out of poverty through education (and hard work).  Read more on why university is free in Scotland.

Our people always have a choice to better themselves through learning and increasing their job prospects and quality of life.

Scotland even goes the extra mile with bursaries for some jobs, such as nursing. For the 2021/2022 year students will receive £10,000 towards their learning, this does not have to be repaid. So they get free tuition fees AND £10,000 for living expenses etc a great incentive for new nurses in Scotland.

On the flip side students in England will often complete their degree course with a debt of over £10,000... more depending on the subject, ie Doctor or Engineer. It seems highly unfair, but again this is a political choice, the Scottish Parliament chose to give students a free education, the same privilege has not been afforded by Westminster for English students.

Dentistry charges

Another Scottish NHS initiative, dental patients are subsidised in Scotland for dental work needed. Many groups will receive completely free treatment, such as pregnant women.

NHS dental charges for a tooth filling in Scotland can be as low as £25, whereas in England this can be as high as £65!

Free care for the elderly

Free care is available to anyone over the age of 65 in Scotland.

Free hospital parking

This is currently ongoing since 2008, but hospital car parks are actively being bought out from private hands by the Scottish Government... the most recent being the car parks at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee and Glasgow Royal Infirmary. The goal is that all hospital car parks should be free in Scotland.

Frozen council tax

Although council tax is no longer frozen in Scotland, it was for a significant time and saved many families a lot of money. From 2007 council tax had been kept at the same level or capped at 3%. In 2022 councils will be given the freedom to set their own council tax rates. It's good that councils are being given more autonomy and power decentralised from Edinburgh, but it will be a shock to many households when the council tax will inevitably rise this year due to a double hit from Brexit and Covid-19.

No bedroom tax

In 2013, the UK Government decided to tax council or housing association tenants who they deemed were under-occupying their homes.

The Scottish Government mitigates the bedroom tax via Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) and spends more than £50 million per year to shield households from this Westminster tax.

Free sanitary products for women

All women in Scotland are now entitled to free feminine hygiene products after the Period Products Act came into law in August 2022.

Are there any exceptions for free health care in Scotland?

Normally cosmetic procedures are not covered, for example, choosing white dental composite dentistry tooth fillings over the metal amalgam fillings will often have to be paid for privately. Exceptions exist though where if you were in a car accident, cosmetic surgery would be free on the Scottish NHS.


Scotland gets free prescriptions because the government believes mitigating illness costs is in the best interests of the population of Scotland. We receive no extra funding for this and do not take money from other areas of the United Kingdom to pay for it.

Please see my articles on "Is Scotland a country?", "Scotland's Flag" and "Why does Scotland want independence?" for more information on Scotland's politics.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?


Anne Alexander
19th of July 2023 @ 07:38:44

Excellent piece. We are so fortunate to live in a country where our devolved government cares for it's people

Diane knight
21st of February 2023 @ 08:20:29

You could teach our government a few things! Oh how I wish I had been born and raised in Scotland, a government for its people and stunning landscapes wherever you go, to boot! This article has certainly cleared up a few questions I had.

Fionnaidh Paul
1st of October 2022 @ 01:41:51

There's also the free bus travel for under 22 year olds now as well and the baby boxes. I just wish more people saw just how much our government does to help the people of Scotland and could see past the political point scoring.

Douglas Keill
8th of August 2022 @ 16:15:03

I have always believed that Westminster funded the Scottish Government Policy of Free prescriptions and Free Tuition Fees. This article educates me! I, as a pensioner, living in England, am thankful that I do not have to fund my prescriptions. I am totally confounded by the Westminster decision to charge our England based Nurses Parking Fees at their places of work! The Scottish & Welsh Governments value their Nurses more highly by welcoming their Nurses to their workplaces with Free Parking. How sensible! I see no future alteration to the Westminster narrow-minde Policy, whatever the political party, of burdening and penalising the resident England population with these additional costs. Perhaps, just Perhaps!…the next Westminster General Election will see the introduction of Free prescriptions and Free Tuition Fees…but then…Perhaps not! Sadly, there are too many rich and influential MPs, whatever their Political views, who have totally lost track of the needs of the Public they serve

Ellen Donaghy
15th of June 2022 @ 10:58:41

We have a very caring government looking after the Scottish people .Our children receive free education at University and college .Free prescriptions etc .We are very grateful for the help we receive .I can’t wait until we become an independent country and our resources can be used to benefit Scotland and our people .We can vote and be governed by a party we wish to govern us and not a party Scotland did not want to be in power .

14th of June 2022 @ 10:49:28

Now I understand. Well done Scottish Parliament. A pity our lot in England don't share the same view. Only to be expected from the tories.

Elaine Mendelson
31st of May 2022 @ 20:22:51

Thank you this is very concise. My husband and I are retiring from England to the Highlands in2023. It was very useful

28th of April 2022 @ 08:14:03

Thank you, this is a really clear explanation.

Angela Hawley
18th of April 2022 @ 00:47:18

Proud to have been born in Scotland but live in England In England people who are awarded PIPS / DLA do not even get free prescriptions except for a few conditions Addisons, Cancer etc. Surely it's a given everything is tested in Scotland first.. All day Drinking, Smoking Bans etc. Claimants on ESA Universal Credit get Free prescriptions but many are not ill simply looking for work..Disgrace that ill people can't get all the medications they need due to lack of money from Westminster