The Scottish Executive has ruled out a review of prescription charge arrangements, saying it is not a priority at the moment.

In a parliamentary debate last week, Scottish deputy health minister Malcolm Chisholm attempted to lay to rest the prospect that prescriptions could be cheaper - or free - north of the Border. He was responding to a motion put by North East Scottish National Party member of the Scottish Parliament, Brian Adam, calling for people with severe and enduring mental illness to be exempt from payment.

Mr Adam was backed by Conservative MSP David Davidson, a pharmacist, who said:

'I would go further and suggest that we need a review of the whole prescription charge exemption system. I do not want MSPs to play the needs of one interest group against those of another.

People do not choose to be ill and they do not choose which illnesses to have. '

But Mr Chisholm disagreed. He said: 'Change would be a major exercise, and it should be remembered that we are in the middle of a much wider programme of change and development in the health service and community care. In view of that, we do not regard reviewing the prescription charge arrangements as a priority at present. '

The debate was a reminder, however, that prescription charges are a devolved matter and that the issue is likely to raise its head again.