Free NHS prescriptions: Staggering price rises exposed – how much your costs have risen

Free NHS prescriptions to end from April? What you need to know

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Prescriptions for people between the age of 60 and 65 could be set for a dramatic shift, with Government proposals suggesting access to free NHS prescriptions will align with the state pension age of 66. This could mean that, unless exempt, those over 60 but under 66 would have to shell out for their NHS prescription.

The average NHS prescription cost in England is £9.35 per item.

Currently, Britons who choose to save money by purchasing a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) will have to pay £30.25 for three months, while a 12-month PPC costs £108.10.

Data from Hansard, compiled by the Socialist Health Association, shows just how much this has risen over the years – and how much extra this has cost you.

In 1995, an NHS prescription charge hit above the £5 level for the first time, now costing £5.25.

This rose to £5.95 by 2000, before rising again to £6.50 in 2005. In 2010, the charges had reached £7.20, rising again to £7.65 in 2012.

And it’s not just us footing a costly bill. Though the NHS holds a powerful negotiating position with drug manufacturers, it still must pay vast sums of money each year in order to acquire the necessary medications needed to treat patients.

According to the NHS’s Next Steps on the Five Year Forward View: “The NHS spends around £16 billion a year on drugs, of which about £9 billion arises from GP prescribing and £7 billion from hospital treatment (of which about half is directly reimbursed by NHS England’s specialised services budget).”

The NHS drugs bill grew by more than seven percent in 2016, the year before the Next Steps on the Five Year Forward View was published, with particular growth in hospital-driven prescribing.

By comparison, according to, between the 2010/11 year and the 2016/17 year, NHS spending on medicines in England grew from £13 billion to £17.4 billion an “average growth of around five percent a year”.

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Health-focussed evidence-based website The Lowdown states: “According to the most recent data from NHS Digital, in 2019/20 the overall drugs cost at list price in the NHS was £20.9 billion. This is an increase of 9.9 percent from £19 billion in 2018/19.

“The list price is before any discounts, so the actual cost of drugs will be lower.

“Hospital drug use accounted for just over half (55.9 percent) of the total at £11.7 billion (2019/20).”

As part of the NHS Next Steps plan, The Department of Health said it would continue to “drive important savings in the supply chain for dispensing medicines.”

According to the Government, the rise in state pension age for men and women has resulted in a “disconnect” with age-based prescription exemptions.

This, coupled with the fact many people are continuing to work later in life, means more people are “economically active and more able to meet the cost of their prescriptions”.

There is some hope that generating money from prescription charges could help support the running of other NHS services.

In 2019 alone, £600m was raised as a result of prescription charges.

There has been some speculation the new charges will come into force from April 2022, as this is when prescription charge increases are traditionally announced.

However, this is yet to be confirmed.

Many people are against the proposition though, with a petition being set up on the website Sum of Us calling on Britains to speak out about the changes.

The petition is named “Hands off our NHS! No to a tax on sickness” and has amassed over 70,300 signatures so far.

The group’s mission statement claims: “2.4 million people could be affected now, and most of us will be affected in future.

“Free prescriptions for over 60s could become a thing of the past, and the thin end of the wedge of creeping NHS charges. Take action to protect free prescriptions now.”

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