NHS Prescription Charges Increase – Dark Day or Right Step?

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The National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) (Amendment) Regulations 2024, which were laid out on April 3, 2024, before the parliament, will see a change in charges pertaining to NHS prescriptions in England.

It is said that the prescription charges and prescription prepayment certificates- PPCs charges will see a surge of 2.59%, which is rounded to almost 5 pence, starting May 1, 2024. Apparently, the charges pertaining to wigs as well as fabric supports are going to see the same rate increase.

Due to the revised charges, a prescription will cost £9.90 for every medicine or appliance dispensed, which is an increase of 25 pence. The 3-month PPC is going to cost £32.05, and the 12-month PPC will see an expense of £114.50.

If we talk in particular about hormone replacement therapy- HRT, PPC will cost £19.80, which is a surge of 50 pence. This is due to the fact that the rate is set at twice the single prescription charge.

However, as expected, all this has not gone too well with the leading pharmacists of the country, who have gone on to blast the government for this shameful rise in the cost of NHS prescriptions. The current charges, which are £9.65 per item, will now reach £9.90 post-mandate.

The pharmacists have apparently said that this move will disadvantage working patients who happen to be on lower incomes. An arbitrary barrier will be created to people’s capacity to receive proper healthcare.

The NPA survey says that the patients have already gone on to report not receiving regular medication because of the costs involved. Be it asthma inhalers, antibiotics, painkillers, medication related to blood pressure, or anti-depressants, all happen to be the most commonly reported medications that patients have not bought due to their costs. As we jot this down, there are hundreds of pharmacies that have witnessed patients decline the medicine(s) because of the prescription cost.

The chair of the NPA, Nick Kaye, said enabling the prescription charge to surge to this level is indeed a very shameful neglect when it comes to working people who have low fixed incomes, who, by the way, are not exempt. There are many who have opted not to collect either some or all the medicines on their prescription due to the cost. This can also lead to potentially scary health consequences.

Tase Oputu, the chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, said that this is indeed a dark day for patients across England. There is already a cost-of-living crisis, and in the midst of it, the rise in prescription charges is going to hit working people with low incomes the hardest. He added that the medicines are indeed becoming unaffordable for many due to the relentless yearly increase in prescription charges, and no wonder all this is absolutely unacceptable.

Since the government is looking at ways to reduce spending on benefits, medicines continue to play a crucial role in helping people stay healthy, and these prescription charges should be scrapped across England, as they have already been in the rest of the UK.

However, one of the spokespersons for the Department of Health and Social Care opines that around nine in every ten prescription items happen to be available for free on the NHS in England. Be it children, those who are aged more than 60, pregnant women, or those with cancer, diabetes, or epilepsy, they are exempt from the rule.

The fact is that a broad range of support and the NHS low-income scheme makes sure that anyone who wants a prescription can afford it. The points where the charges happen to be in place, it is imperative that the prices get updated regularly so as to make sure that the NHS goes on to maintain a model that’s sustainable and consistently delivers proper patient care.

PCC comes to the rescue?

For those who happen to be concerned over the rising cost of recurring prescriptions, a prepayment certificate- PPC can be taken into account that happens to levy a set charge for the entire year of prescriptions. However, this PPC annual charge also sees a surge of almost £3, moving to £114.50 from £111.60.

The NHS, on its social media, said that if patients happen to have a long-term health condition, money can indeed be saved on prescriptions. A PPC will indeed save people if they happen to pay over three times in three months, or probably eleven times in the entire year.

The Prescription Charges Coalition, which happens to comprise more than 50 organizations, has already made a demand for an urgent review pertaining to the exemption list of prescription charges.

The coalition goes on to urge that the present exemption list, which, as a matter of fact, has seen very little change over the last 5 decades, does not cover severe conditions like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, HIV, asthma, and cystic fibrosis, to name a few. There have been concerns which are voiced that the rising cost will propel the patients to skip their medications. A Parkinson’s patient, Wendy Tombs, from Shropshire, happens to describe her financial status as dire because of the disease. Expressing her distress, she said that the rise in the rise in prescription prices happens to be just another nail in the coffin for those living with Parkinson’s, and if the prices keep rising, she is indeed apprehensive as to how much longer she will last.

Apparently, Wendy received a grant from Parkinson’s UK so as to cover the cost of the prescription payment certificate.

The head of campaigns with Parkinson’s UK, Laura Cockram, who by the way also happens to be chairwomen on the coalition, said that the prescription charge price increase by the NHS has gone on to strike fear in those who are living with certain long-term health conditions like Parkinson’s. She adds that there are people who are already struggling financially because of the cost-of-living scenario, and this surge in prescription costs will go on to ensure that there are people who will miss, reduce, or may be even delay their medication, which would itself mean a deterioration in their health condition.

The point here is that there is very limited support in terms of finance that the charities can offer so as to offset the shortcomings of the government.

This is the reason why they are calling upon the government to freeze the charge in 2025 and also commit to reviewing the exemption list urgently.

Conclusion

The prescription charge increase is called the tax on the working poor. There are indeed concerns about patients forgoing their medication due to the financial burden they are causing. Ideally, a thorough review needs to be done on the patients who can be exempted from this charge to make it a win-win situation for both the patients and the NHS.