Price hikes in prescription charges have been dubbed a “tax on health” by a group of charities as new figures reveal that the cost of a single prescription could be more than £10 in just four years.
Some patients are being forced to choose between everyday essentials like food and their medicine due to “unfair” charges for English patients, the Prescription Charges Coalition said.
It has called on ministers to conduct an “urgent” review of the list of patients who are entitled to free prescriptions.
The Coalition has estimated that, based on the current trajectory of price rises, a single prescription item will cost £10.15 in 2025.
The analysis, conducted for the PA news agency, also suggests that in 10 years’ time people can expect to pay an “eye-watering” £11.35 for a single item.
The Coalition, a group of 20 organisations campaigning to abolish prescription charges for people with long-term conditions, raised concerns that many people with long-term health problems are not collecting their prescriptions due to the cost.
This in turn could lead to them needing more costly NHS care, it said.
It comes as new prescription charges come into force.
From April 1 the cost of a prescription has risen from £9.15 to £9.35 in line with inflation.
Meanwhile, the cost of an annual prescription pre-payment certificate, which lets people get as many prescriptions as they need for a set price, has increased by £2.20 from £105.90 last year to £108.10 this year.
The Coalition has called on the Government to “urgently” review the prescription charge exemption list which entitles people with some medical conditions to free prescriptions.
It said that the list was created so long ago that conditions like HIV did not even exist at the time.
The Coalition said that aside from the addition of cancer in 2009, the list of exempt conditions has not changed since 1968.
Prescription Charges Coalition chairwoman, Laura Cockram, who is also head of policy and campaigns at the charity Parkinson’s UK, told the PA news agency: “The prescription charge rise means that it’s an extra cost for people to stay well.
“What it means for people with long term conditions is that sometimes people will choose between picking up their vital medication that will keep them well or actually eating.”
She added: “We are very worried at the Prescription Charges Coalition that people with long term conditions are being put off of getting their medication.
“We did some research a couple of years ago and found a third of people who responded to our survey said they were not picking up their medication.
“And subsequently that meant they actually needed to seek more medical help, whether that was contacting their GP or maybe in some extraordinary cases actually go to a hospital.
“We think he could have an impact on people with long-term conditions, going into hospital maybe, and putting increased pressure on the NHS, just when the NHS doesn’t really need it.”
Ms Cockram continued: “The charge has gone up about 20p every year for the last couple of years.
“It’s not just the individual prescription items that have gone up, but also the prepayment certificate has gone up as well.
“So it is meaning that it’s almost like a tax on the health or an additional cost, just to stay healthy.
“What we could potentially be looking at in 2025, is it costing over £10 per item for prescriptions and potentially if we were to see the same rises over the next 10 years it would an eye-watering £11.35 per item in terms of a prescription.”
On the call for the Government to review the exemption list, Ms Cockram added: “We’re calling for an urgent review of the list, HIV wasn’t even around when the exemption list was created, people with cystic fibrosis were not expected to live to be adults when it was created.
“It is over 50 years old, and also massively unfair for people who live in England who faced the charge (when) people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, get their prescriptions for free.”
Previous economic modelling has suggested that the NHS could save millions by scrapping prescriptions for people with long-term conditions.
Research by the York Health Economics Consortium at the University of York in 2018 found that if the charge was abolished for just two long-term conditions, the NHS could save more than £20 million a year.
It has been estimated that around one in three people with many long-term conditions who pay for their prescriptions have not collected a prescription due to the cost.
This can lead to a deterioration of health, which in turn leads to more demand on costly NHS resources.
Researchers suggested that any loss in prescription revenue from removing charges would be more than offset by savings to the NHS in England, totalling £20.8 million per year for inflammatory bowel disease and Parkinson’s disease alone.
The Coalition said that England is now the only part of the UK that charges for prescriptions.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Nearly 90% of NHS prescription items are free in England and exemptions are in place for children, pregnant women, and those over 60, on a low-income or with medical conditions like cancer, epilepsy and diabetes.
“Additional support through the NHS Low Income Scheme is available for those not covered by exemptions, and all patients can buy pre-payment certificates to cover all the prescription items they need for just over £2 per week.”