The standard NHS prescription charge in England will not increase in April 2022, a government minister has said. It is the first time since 2010 that the cost has remained the same for two consecutive years.
In a written Parliamentary response, published on 22 March 2022, Edward Argar, the health minister, said: “Prescription charges will not be uplifted on 1 April 2022. There is currently no planned announcement on any future increase.” Argar was responding to a question on prescription charges by shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry.
When asked by The Pharmaceutical Journal for confirmation that prescription fees would not rise in 2022, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that its current position was that set out in Argar’s response to Thornberry’s question.
The prescription charge is currently £9.35 in England. In Wales and Scotland, prescriptions are free at the point of collection.
“It’s good to hear the government is not planning to increase the cost of a prescription this week,” said Rachel Power, chief executive of The Patients Association. However, she added that “the prescription charges system needs major reform: it meets neither the needs of patients nor those of the NHS”.
“The government’s decision on whether or not to extend the prescription charge to people aged between 60 and 65 [years] is still not known, but we oppose the scrapping of free prescriptions for these patients. So, while this announcement is good news, there’s still a lot we’re not happy about when it comes to charging people for the medicines they need to keep them well.”
Currently, prescriptions are free for everyone in England aged 60 years and over. But, in July 2021, the government opened a consultation on whether to raise the age at which prescriptions are free to align with the state pension age of 66 years. The consultation closed on 3 September 2021. The DHSC did not immediately respond when asked when an announcement on this proposal could be expected.
Responding to Argar’s announcement, Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, said that “with continued pressures on teams, pharmacists should be allowed to focus on treating patients and prescriptions should not just be affordable, but they should be accessible to all”.
She added: “It is extraordinary that the government is considering forcing the over 60s to start paying prescription charges, as all prescriptions are free for everybody in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. With the cost of living impacting all of Great Britain, the government should abolish prescription charges in England all together.”
In a statement issued when the consultation on raising the age of free prescriptions opened, Govind said that it would be “unacceptable to raise the cost of prescriptions in the current economic situation when many have been disadvantaged by the pandemic”.
“Such proposals will only further drive the health inequalities that have been highlighted by COVID-19,” she added.
In a further Parliamentary answer, published on 22 March 2022, pharmacy minister Maria Caulfield said the current prescription charge waiver for COVID-19 antivirals and therapeutic clinical trials would end, as planned, on 31 March 2022. She added that the government would provide more details on a waiver after this date “in due course”.