With growing numbers of hard-pressed people in England failing to collect prescribed medicine because of the £9.35 per item cost, or asking pharmacists which items they can do without to save money, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in mid February called on the government to review the exemptions to ensure that all patients with long term conditions to get their drugs free of charge.

However prescription charges have long been abolished altogether in Wales, followed by Scotland and Northern Ireland, leaving only English patients paying the hefty charge for the 10% of prescriptions that are not exempt.

The charges raised just £652 million in 2021-22, just 0.4% of the £150 billion DHSC budget: but their real cost in deterring more and more seriously ill patients on low incomes from accessing the treatment they need has not been calculated.

Labour in 2019 promised to scrap prescription charges in England if elected, although there has been no recent repetition of that commitment. Recent evidence shows that ensuring prescribed drugs are available free of charge significantly increases their compliance with treatment – and saves money.

By contrast in 2021 Ministers marked the 73rd anniversary of their party voting against establishing the NHS by launching a surreptitious consultation on the imposition of prescription charges on people aged 60 to 66, who currently get them free … to raise an estimated £226m per year. 

In other words levying charges on just 2.5 million people aged 60-66 was expected to increase the total raised by charges by a third.

As the RPS points out: “Prescription charges are an unfair tax on health, which disadvantages working people on lower incomes who are already struggling with food and energy bills.” 


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