Pharmacists blast government over ‘shameful’ increase to NHS prescription cost

Patients are being prescribed medicines, but can’t afford to buy them  (PA)
Patients are being prescribed medicines, but can’t afford to buy them (PA)

Leading pharmacists have blasted the government over “shameful” increases in the cost of NHS prescriptions. From 1 May they will increase from £9.65 per item to £9.90.

Pharmacists across the country have hit out at the increase, warning it will disadvantage working patients on lower incomes. And the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said the move will create an “arbitrary barrier” to people’s ability to receive healthcare.

According to an NPA survey, patients have already reported not getting regular medication due to the costs. Antibiotics, pain killers, asthma inhalers, blood pressure medication and antidepressants are examples of the most commonly reported medicines which patients have not taken due to cost. Hundreds of pharmacies reported seeing patients decline medicines due to the cost of prescriptions, one to five times a week.

Nick Kaye, chair of the NPA, said: “To allow the prescription charge to rise to this level is a shameful neglect of working people on low fixed incomes, who are not exempt. Many people already choose not to collect some or all their prescription medicines because of cost, with potentially dire health consequences.

“As pharmacists, we understand the healing power of medicines. So naturally we oppose arbitrary barriers to people getting the medicines they need. This is a tax on the working poor that deepens the cost of living crisis for them.

“It’s scandalous that the government imposes a £650m a year tax on people who simply have the bad fortune to be ill or have a certain long-term medical condition. As pharmacists, we are healthcare professionals and have no interest in being tax collectors.”

The NHS in England gets a revenue of more than £600m from prescription charges compared to its total budget of £187bn. Prescription charges do not apply in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, Tase Oputu said: “This is a dark day for patients. Amid the cost of living crisis, the rise in prescription charges will hit working people on low incomes the hardest. The relentless annual increase in the prescription charge is making medicines unaffordable for many. This is totally unacceptable. You can, it seems, put a price on health.”

“As the government looks to reduce spending on benefits, medicines play a crucial role in helping people stay healthy and in work. Prescription charges should be scrapped in England, as they have been in the rest of the UK.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Almost nine in 10 prescription items are available for free on the NHS in England. Children, and those aged 60 and over, pregnant women, and those with medical conditions like cancer, epilepsy and diabetes remain exempt.

“This wide range of support, as well as the NHS Low Income scheme, ensures that everyone who needs a prescription can afford it. Where charges are in place, it is important prices are regularly updated to ensure the NHS maintains a sustainable business model and can continue to deliver excellent patient care.”

This article was updated with a response from the DHSC at 17:16.