NHS prescription charges are due to increase in England again, leaving thousands of people at risk of being unable to afford vital medication.
Pharmacies bodies have been calling for the charge to be scrapped in the country for several years, as people living in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland do not have to pay for their prescriptions.
How much will I have to pay?
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The charge of a single prescription item will rise from £9.15 to £9.35 in England from 1 April.
The price of a three-month prescription will also increase by 60p to £30.25, while a 12-month prescription will increase by £2.20 to cost £108.10.
The hike comes after the price was increased by 15p last year, and 20p in both 2018 and 2019. Ten years ago, in 2011, the cost was just £7.40.
The rising cost has come under fire for potentially putting vulnerable people at risk of being unable to afford their medication, with the prescription charge dubbed as “outdated”.
Laura Cockram, chairwoman of the Prescription Charges Coalition, said: “By continuing to drive up the cost of prescriptions, the government is ignoring clear evidence that the charge is a false economy that leaves people unable to afford vital medication, which can then place increased pressure on the NHS through emergency hospital admissions.
“No-one should be forced to choose between eating or heating their home and paying for vital medication.
“At this highly volatile economic time, it is incredibly disappointing that yet again, people with long-term conditions are being penalised by an outdated prescription charges system.”
Calls for review
The coalition called for a review of the government’s “widely outdated exemption list which was created when some conditions, like HIV, didn’t even exist”.
Ms Cockram added: “It needs to take the time to do this rather than just ploughing on with the price increase so people with long-term conditions like Parkinson’s, asthma and MS, are no longer penalised for having the ‘wrong condition’.”
Amendments to the National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) Regulations were laid before Parliament on Tuesday (23 February), according to the legislation website page.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Nearly 90 per cent of prescription items are dispensed free of charge in community pharmacies in England and existing exemptions are in place covering children, pregnant women, and those over 60, on a low income or with medical conditions like cancer, epilepsy and diabetes.
“Patients with long-term conditions or on a low income can apply for a range of prescription charge exemptions or additional support through the NHS Low Income scheme.
“Patients can also buy prepayment certificates to cover all the prescriptions they need for just over £2 per week.”
Who is exempt from the charge?
You may be eligible to get your NHS prescription for free if you meet the following criteria when your prescription is dispensed:
- You are aged 60 or over
- You are aged under 16
- You are aged 16 to 18 and in full-time education
- You are pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months and have a valid maternity exemption certificate (MatEx)
- You have a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
- You have a continuing physical disability that prevents you going out without help from another person and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
- You hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability
- You are an NHS inpatient
Medical exemption certificates are issued if you have:
- cancer, including the effects of cancer or the effects of current or previous cancer treatment
- a permanent fistula (for example, a laryngostomy, colostomy, ileostomy or some renal dialysis fistulas) requiring continuous surgical dressing or an appliance
- a form of hypoadrenalism (for example, Addison's disease)
- diabetes insipidus or other forms of hypopituitarism
- diabetes mellitus, except where treatment is by diet alone
- myasthenia gravis
- myxoedema (hypothyroidism requiring thyroid hormone replacement)
- epilepsy requiring continuous anticonvulsive therapy
- a continuing physical disability that means you cannot go out without the help of another person (temporary disabilities do not count, even if they last for several months)
You are also entitled to free prescriptions if you or your partner (including civil partner) receive, or you are under the age of 20 and the dependent of someone receiving various income support.
More information about who is entitled to free NHS prescriptions can be found on the NHS website.