England is the only country in the UK that still charges people for NHS prescriptions, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all ditching the charges over a decade ago.

Prescription charges were frozen at £9.35 per item in 2022 to help 'ease cost of living pressures', marking the first time the government did not impose an annual increase in 12 years. 

However, back in March, the Department of Health and Social Care said it would apply an inflation rate of 3.21 per cent (30p), bringing the current cost to £9.65.

Back then, Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS’s English Pharmacy Board told MailOnline: "The cost of living crisis continues to bite. This is a kick in the teeth to people already struggling.

"Soon energy support will also cease. The Government needs to urgently scrap prescription charges in England."

What are the current prices?

The current prices are as follows:

  • Single charge: £9.65
  • 3-month PPC (pre-payment certificates): £31.25
  • 12-month PPC: £111.60
  • HRT (Hormone replacement therapy) PPC: £19.30

Will prices increase?

Pharmacists have previously called on the Government to scrap NHS prescription fees in England, calling them “an unfair tax on health which disadvantages working people on lower incomes”.

Will prices increase again soon? Well, probably. And it might be more than you expect. Take the below for example:

How prescription costs have changed over the last decade

  • 2023: £9.65
  • 2022: £9.35
  • 2021: £9.35 
  • 2020: £9.15
  • 2019: £9.00
  • 2018: £8.80
  • 2017: £8.60
  • 2016: £8.40
  • 2015: £8.20
  • 2014: £8.05 

In the past decade, prices increased annually by 15p, to 20p, back to 15p, and then by a hefty 30p.

Once upon a time prescriptions once cost 10 shillings – 50p – for everything on the scrip. Could you imagine such a world? 

The Prescription Charges Coalition, which brings together around 50 organisations and professional bodies to campaign to scrap prescription charges in England for people with long-term conditions, conducted a survey between February and March 2003 (just before the rise).

It found:

  • Nearly 1 in 10 people have skipped medication in the past year due to the cost of prescriptions. Of this group: 1) Almost a third (30%) of those who have missed medication now have other physical health problems in addition to their original health condition. 2) 37% now have other mental health problems in addition to their original health condition. 3) And over half (53%) have had to take time off work as a result of worsening health.
  • 12% of people who pay for their NHS prescription have cut medication in half to make it last longer.
  • Over a third (35%) of survey respondents reported they had the duration of their prescription changed, meaning they’re paying more frequently for their medicines.
  • Almost 2 in 5 (38%) people with long-term health conditions only learned about the prepayment certificate more than a year after their diagnosis.

The survey shows that people with long-term health conditions who cannot afford their medication are seeing an increase in GP visits, trips to accident and emergency (A&E), and hospital stays.

Some survey respondents reported they had to stay in hospital for up to 6 weeks. Not being able to afford medicine has also led to mental health issues and increased time off work. 

What happens if you don't pay?

If you are caught trying to cheat the system and claim for a free prescription, then you face a hefty fine. The NHS website states: "We're responsible for checking claims for free NHS prescriptions and NHS dental treatment and recovering charges from patients who incorrectly claim they do not have to pay.

"If you're sent a Penalty Charge Notice, you'll be asked to pay the original NHS prescription or dental treatment charges and an additional penalty charge. The penalty charge is 5 times the original amount owed, up to a maximum of £100.

"Once a Penalty Charge Notice has been issued, if no payment has been made within 28 days, a surcharge may be added."

Who is eligible for free prescriptions?

You can get free NHS prescriptions if, at the time the prescription is dispensed, you:

  • are 60 or over
  • are under 16
  • are 16 to 18 and in full-time education
  • are pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months and have a valid maternity exemption certificate (MatEx)
  • have a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
  • have a continuing physical disability that prevents you going out without help from another person and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
  • hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability
  • are an NHS inpatient

You're also entitled to free prescriptions if you or your partner (including civil partner) receive, or you're under the age of 20 and the dependant of someone receiving:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
  • Universal Credit and meet the criteria

Laura Cockram, Chair of the Prescription Charges Coalition and Head of Policy and Campaigns for Parkinson’s UK, said: "The prescription charge exemption system needs urgent reform. 

"It is not meeting the needs of people with long-term conditions and is putting their health at risk, which we fear will intensify as the charges increase on 1 April.

"The charges for people with long-term health conditions fail those who are being forced to make tough choices every day about whether they feed their families, pay their bills or take their medication. As we have seen from our survey, medication could keep them out of hospital.

"We know the price rise will result in sick people relying more on NHS services that are already at breaking point.

"Far from this government’s aim of improving life expectancy for people with stroke, dementia, asthma and mental ill health, this increase in the prescription charge will create a health emergency for people with these conditions and other long-term conditions in England. 

"The UK government must urgently commit to reviewing the prescription charges exemption list, or it will fail in its bid to create a healthier nation."