Prescriptions should be free in England, pharmacists have today demanded as the cost-of-living pressures bite.
It is the only country in the UK that still charges, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all ditching the charges over a decade ago.
Campaigners call the £9.35 fee patients in England must pay to secure certain drugs like warfarin or asthma inhalers an ‘unfair tax on health’.
Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS) English Pharmacy Board, today warned the current charges don’t reflect the current times.
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Ms Govind said: ‘We are deeply concerned that people are having to make choices about their health based on their ability to pay.
‘No one should have to make choices about rationing their medicines.
‘And no one should be faced with a financial barrier to getting the medicines they need.
‘Prescription charges are an unfair tax on health which disadvantages working people on lower incomes who are already struggling with food and energy bills.’
Campaigners call the £9.35 fee patients in England must pay to secure certain drugs like Warfarin, used to treat blood clots or asthma inhalers an ‘unfair tax on health’. If you don’t qualify for a free medicines, you can get a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC). A three month PPC costs £30.25, while a 12-month PPC is £108.10
According to the RPS survey, one in two pharmacists had seen a rise in people not collecting their prescription, while two in three pharmacists reported seeing an increase in requests for cheaper, over-the-counter substitutes for the medicine they had been prescribed
Reducing access to medicines could lead to poorer health, hospital admissions and time off work, she warned.
An RPS survey released today also revealed that half pharmacists have seen an increase in patients asking them which prescription they can ‘do without’ in the last six months.
Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS) English Pharmacy Board (pictured above), warned the current charges don’t reflect current times
Who is entitled to free NHS prescriptions?
You can get free NHS prescriptions if, at the time the prescription is dispensed, you:
- Are 60 or over
- Are under 16
- Are 16 to 18 and in full-time education
- Are pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months and have a valid maternity exemption certificate (MatEx)
- Have a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
- Have a continuing physical disability that prevents you going out without help from another person and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
- Hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability
- Are an NHS inpatient
You’re also entitled to free prescriptions if you or your partner (including civil partner) receive, or you’re under the age of 20 and the dependant of someone receiving:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
- Universal Credit and meet the criteria
You are also eligible if you’re entitled to or named on:
- A valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate – if you do not have a certificate, you can show your award notice. You qualify if you get Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits with a disability element (or both), and have income for tax credit purposes of £15,276 or less
- A valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs (HC2)
One in two pharmacists had also seen a rise in people not collecting their prescription, while two in three pharmacists reported seeing an increase in requests for cheaper, over-the-counter substitutes for the medicine they had been prescribed.
Over the same time-frame, UK households have faced increasingly squeezed budgets with soaring energy bills and rising fuel and food costs.
Meanwhile, other senior pharmacists and health bodies also joined the call to scrap the charge today, labelling it ‘unaffordable’.
England remains the only country in the UK to still make some patients pay for their prescriptions.
There are few exemptions, including for those aged 16-18 and in full-time education or patients once they turn 60.
Drugs like contraception are almost always free too.
Prescription charges were frozen at £9.35 per item last April to help ‘ease cost of living pressures’ – marking the first time the government did not impose an annual increase in 12 years.
People who don’t qualify for free drugs can get a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC), which costs over £100 for a year.
It comes as a freedom of information (FOI) request by consumer guru Martin Lewis’ website moneysavingexpert.com revealed that over a million people paid more for NHS prescriptions than they needed to during the 2021/22 financial year.
Paying the full £9.35 for each prescription instead of an annual £108.10 PPC meant these patients lost out on around £41.50 each, the website calculated.
This equates to an overspend of roughly £44m on NHS prescriptions during that time period, according to the data from NHS Business Services Authority.
Approximately £600million is generated each year in revenue from prescription charges for the delivery of NHS services.
There have long been calls for the prescription charge to be scrapped in England, with charities labelling it a ‘tax on ill health’.
Paul Day, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association — part of a 50-strong coalition of groups that have called for the charge to be scrapped — told MailOnline: ‘Rather than seeing the individual and societal benefits of enabling people to stay as healthy as possible — and therefore negate preventable progression of ill health and avoidable hospital admissions — the government in England use prescription charges as a tax to raise revenue in the short term.
‘Following the examples of all other UK nations, England could do more to support the public’s health and save costs in the long term if prescription charges were abolished.’
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, added: ‘The prescription charges system in England is in need of major reform. It does not meet patients’ needs.
‘As the Royal Pharmaceutical Society points out, charges lead some patients to take their medication less than their prescription advises, or not at all. This undermines their care and if their health worsens because of this, they may need even more NHS care.’
Owner and superintendent pharmacist at Bristol-based Bedminster Pharmacy, Ade Williams, also told MailOnline his team began covering some of his patients’ prescription costs in December due to the cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Williams, who was awarded an MBE last year for his services to the NHS, said: ‘Sadly one of the changing faces of health inequalities is the increased in-work poverty.’
He added: ‘Paying for medications for better mental health, blood pressure, asthma and even HRT is viewed as unaffordable.
‘The universal offer of the NHS in England is diminished and sadly people in lower-income groups are most affected by this. It really must end now.’