The English NHS prescription charge increase to £8.80 is ‘regrettable’, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said.

Commenting on the Government’s decision to increase NHS prescription charge by 20p from April, PSNC chief executive Sue Sharpe said: ‘We understand that the NHS is starved of resources and so may not be able to remove the charge.

‘But at a time when many people are seeing their income drop, the increase announced this week is regrettable.

‘The prescription charge is a tax on the sick and, as all pharmacies will know, many people who have to pay the charges find it extremely difficult to do so.’

Charges increase

In February, health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy confirmed that NHS prescription charge would increase by 20p from April 2018 in England.

He said in a statement: ‘In the 2015 Spending Review, the government committed to support the Five Year Forward View with £10bn investment in real terms by 2020-21 to fund frontline NHS services.

‘Alongside this, the Government expects the NHS to deliver £22bn of efficiency savings to secure the best value from NHS resources and Primary Care must play its part.

‘This year, therefore, we have increased the prescription charge by 20p from £8.60 to £8.80 for each medicine or appliance dispensed.’

‘Not a surprise’

Al Patel, owner of Lee pharmacy in London, said that the increase ‘is in line with historical figures and is not a surprise’.

He added: ‘With the current NHS climate, cuts in pharmacy, increased spending, shortage of GP’s and the increasing time it takes to see a GP, charges should be increased.

‘But this alone won’t sustain the NHS. Patients need to be educated to takes responsibility to look after their own health better.’

Mr Patel said that the list of medical exemptions from prescription charges ‘should be increased with conditions such as asthma, which have seen fatalities due to various reasons ranging from poor control to inhaler running out’.

‘Broken system’

Mike Hewitson, superintendant pharmacist at Bedminster pharmacy in Dorset, argued that ‘the prescription charging system is broken, plain and simple’.

He continued: ‘The latest increase makes the system more unjust.

‘It needs a proper review to consider whether it is fair or equitable for patients with long term conditions, students or people with mental health problems.

‘It costs pharmacy contractors hundreds of millions of pounds to administer this system and you have to remember we remain liable should patients forget to fill out the levy declaration.’

Until 2001, prescription charges were the same across the UK until they were frozen at £6 in Wales and abolished in 2007.

Northern Ireland and Scotland followed suit in 2010 and 2011 respectively.