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DH raises prescription charges for second year running

The government is set to hike prescription charges in England by 25p from next month – the second year in a row it has increased the levy.

People paying for their prescriptions will be charged £9.90 per item from May 1, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) revealed yesterday (April 4).

It marks a 25p increase on the current prescription charge, which is fixed at £9.65 per item. Prescriptions dispensed during April will stay at this price.

Read more: DH to hike prescription charges by 30p from next month

It is the second year running that the government has raised the prescription charge, which increased by 30p from £9.35 an item from April 2023.

The charge had remained frozen at £9.35 since April 2021 in light of the cost-of-living crisis, breaking a 12-year run of annual price hikes.

But last year the DH also opted to increase the three-month and annual pre-payment certificates (PPC) in line with inflation.

Similarly, from May this year the cost of a three-month PPC will rise by 83p to £32.08 whereas the cost of an annual PPC will rise £2.90 to £144.50.

Read more: HRT PPC website crashes as more than 37k purchased in first days of scheme

And the cost of 12-month hormone replacement therapy (HRT) PPCs – introduced last year to such great demand that the government's website crashed within days of their launch – will increase by 50p to £19.80.

England remains the only country in the UK to charge a levy for NHS prescriptions.

People aged 60 and over and under-18s are exempt, as are patients with certain medical conditions such as cancer, epilepsy and hypothyroidism.

 

"A tax on the vulnerable"

 

Community Pharmacy England (CPE) chief executive Janet Morrison said the increase would once again force pharmacy teams to "be the bearers of bad news" and act as "tax collectors on top of the intolerable wider pressures that [the sector] is facing".

“As the cost of living continues to put strain on the most vulnerable in society, many patients will have to make unbearable decisions about which medicines they can afford to pay for," she said.

She added: "We remain opposed to the charge: it is a tax on the vulnerable."

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) blasted the announcement, calling it "a shameful neglect of working people on low fixed incomes, who are not exempt".

Its chair Nick Kaye warned that "many people" are choosing not to collect some or all of their prescriptions due to their cost, which could have "potentially dire health consequences.\" 

He continued: "As pharmacists, we understand the healing power of medicines. So naturally we oppose arbitrary barriers to people getting the medicines they need."

Chair of the Royal Pharmacuetical Society (RPS) in England Tase Oputu said raising the script charge amid a cost-of-living crisis would "hit working people on low incomes the hardest".

Read more: MPs to debate prescription charges for over 60s next week

“Every day pharmacists are asked by patients who are unable to afford all the items their prescription which ones they could 'do without,'" she said. "Patients shouldn’t have to make choices that involve rationing their medicines."

Ms Oputu challenged politicians to review "this complex and unjust system" ahead of a general election this year. "It is high time this stealth tax was abolished," she added.

Read more: C+D Snapshot: Is it time to remove script charges in England?

In October, a C+D snapshot poll revealed that community pharmacy workers are broadly in favour of scrapping the prescription charge, with 57% of respondents saying they thought the levy should be dropped.

Meanwhile, 30% said the charge should stay in place, and 13% said they weren't sure. 

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