The English NHS prescription charges increase to £8.80 is ‘catastrophic’, a group campaigning to end unfair prescription charges has said. 

Commenting on the Government’s decision to increase NHS prescription charge by 20p from April 2018, co-chair of the Prescription Charges Coalition – a group of over 40 organisations campaigning to end unfair prescription charges, Matina Loizou said: ‘This hike will be catastrophic for people with long-term or life-long conditions.

‘Many people are unable to work full-time because of their condition and on top of additional costs, such as specialist transport or specific dietary requirements, prescriptions charges can push them over the limit.

‘We’ve heard distressing and alarming experiences from people who are facing impossible choices over whether they should eat, heat their home or pay for essential medications.

The Government said that it has increased the prescription charge as part of its pledge to invest £10bn in frontline NHS services and deliver £22bn of efficiency savings within the NHS.

Negative health outcomes

A 2017 Prescription Charges Coalition report shows that almost 60% of patients who skipped or reduced their medicine doses due to prescription costs experienced negative health outcomes – with 50% of these taking time off work as a result.

The NHS dispenses 90% of all prescriptions in England for free to eligible people.

According to NHS England’s latest annual report, prescription charges revenue amounted to £554,9m in 2016/17.

The Coalition said that ‘the financial consequences for the NHS and wider economy of people not being able to afford their medication is likely to be far greater than the £360-430m that free prescriptions for working-age people with long-term conditions would cost.

Threat to the financial sustainability

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) argued that ‘long-term increased prescription charges would threaten the financial sustainability of the NHS’.

Chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board Sandra Gidley said: ‘It could increase the burden on secondary care units as more patients will become unwell when they cannot afford to pay for their prescriptions for medicines that may ordinarily keep them stable and well.

‘This increases their risk of becoming more unwell and will as a result add to the burden facing already stretched GPs and hospitals, all of which will be far more expensive for the NHS than the cheaper initial prescription cost.

‘We strongly believe that England should implement the same model as Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales so that everyone has free access to medicines as and when they need them.’