The last 12 months have seen a marked increase in patients declining prescription medication because of cost, according to new research.

The findings have subsequently sparked fresh calls for prescription charges to be reviewed or abolished.

A survey of 1,357 pharmacists in England found that 97% had encountered patients foregoing some of the medicines on a prescription due to cost, and as many as 90% reported cases where patients declined all the medicines.

The survey, jointly commissioned by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), also found that more than a third (35%) of respondents had seen an increase in patients declining prescriptions over the last year.

Among the medicines being declined were treatment for blood pressure, mental health and pain relief, as well as inhalers, statins and antibiotics.

Tase Oputu, chair of the RPS in England, called on political parties to commit to a review of prescription charges, labelling the system ‘complex and unjust’.

Ms Oputu said: ‘The prescription charges system is confusing for patients and creates unnecessary bureaucracy for pharmacy teams who want to focus their time on patient care.

‘Nobody should face a financial barrier to accessing the medicines they need to stay well. It is high time this stealth tax was abolished.’

According to the Prescription Charges Coalition (PPC), the results of the RPS/PDA survey echo the campaign group’s own research.

The PPC is urging the UK Government to freeze the prescription charge for 2024 and 2025 and commit to reviewing the prescription charge exemption list.

Laura Cockram, head of campaigns at Parkinson’s UK and chair of the PPC, said: ‘Pharmacists working within our communities play a vital role in ensuring people with long-term health conditions stay well and are able to access their medicines.

‘It’s crucial the UK Government takes urgent action to help people with long-term conditions afford their vital medicines.’

Alison Jones, director of policy at the PDA, said the organisation’s members ‘do all they can’ to advise patients on NHS England schemes to reduce prescription costs, such as pre-payment, but ‘ultimately, in a cost-of-living crisis some patients cannot afford any price’.

Ms Jones also insisted that ‘pharmacists should not be used as tax collectors’.

‘Patients in England should have the same access to medicines as those in the other UK nations, where the affordability of prescriptions for the patient is not a factor,’ she added.

The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment.