/ Health

Should prescriptions be free?

When I recently wrote about re-issued prescription drugs, I was surprised to hear that many of my friends and family thought they should be free. But what about your original prescription – should it be free too?

If you live in England, at £7.40 a time, prescription charges aren’t cheap. And with the annual increase announced today, the price will rise to £7.65 from 1 April. But in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland prescriptions are free.

So should they be free, or at least cheaper, in England?

Prescription prepayment certificate

I have asthma and the cost of my regular medication currently comes to around £220 each year. From April that will increase by about £10. And while you’d be right in thinking that I’m happy to pay to stay healthy, there is a limit.

However, I was fortunate to discover the prescription prepayment certificate (PPC). This costs £104 a year, and will cover all your prescriptions – you can even spread the cost over the year. Getting a PPC currently saves me over £100 a year for my asthma medication, and would save me even more if I needed any other prescriptions.

But is it really fair that someone with a long-term health condition should have to pay to maintain their quality of life? Or in some cases, stay alive? While some long-term health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and epilepsy, are exempt from prescription charges, many are not.

Support for low-income families

There is support for people on low incomes, but ‘low income’ is described as a ‘capital limit’ of £16,000 – some households in this position could still struggle to afford prescriptions. In fact, surveys over the last few years have shown people choosing between buying medicine and paying their bills, or even from buying food.

Alex Hanff (@alexanderhanff) described his position on Twitter:

‘You see, food for my family is more important than meds for my pain and condition. Access to medicine should not be determined by whether or not you can afford it. Health should come before profits.’

The Prescription Charges Campaign has been asking the government to make prescriptions free for people with long-term health conditions. And in 2009 the Gilmore Review also advised that anyone with a long-term condition (broadly defined as lasting longer than six months and requiring continuing management, such as medication) should receive free prescriptions.

So, do you think prescriptions should be free for people with long-term conditions? Or could we even go a step further, with free prescriptions for all in England, just like in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?


The advantage of being old is that prescriptions are free! But haven’t had a prescription for over 15 years (my last headache tablets expired in 2001 – though they still work) I use about two tablets a year.

I think prescriptions should be free for all those who have paid their National Insurance fully. when in work. There are a number of categories of people that I think should not qualify.

Many people do qualify for free prescriptions as a result of being young, old, because they suffer from certain conditions or because they have low incomes. The current system seems fair, especially with the pre-payment option.

As it stands, a lot of drugs are wasted. Some are cheap but others are very expensive. One of the problems with free medication is increased waste because some people are less careful when it is not their own money.

I do not know if everyone is aware that some non-prescription items can be bought cheaper than paying over £7. It would be good if non-prescription items shown on prescription were identified as such, so that costs can be compared.

I agree that it would be good to know which items can be bought over the counter. It can be quite stressful getting an appointment and getting a prescription! So if OTC items were identified that would give people a choice.

Sophie Gilbert says:
24 February 2012

You don’t get something for nothing. Are free prescriptions sustainable in the long run? Who really pays for them at the end of the day? Has something else disappeared to allow them to exist? Etc

Making anything free is a recipe for waste. If those who take the drugs were expected to pay for them, this would lead to a big decrease in demand. In some cases it would discourage unnecessary use of drugs (something very much to be welcomed) but it would also mean that some would suffer poor health or have a shorter life expectancy because they cannot afford drugs they need.

I have recently become eligible for free prescriptions but would not object to continuing to pay for a pre-payment certificate since I am not dependent on the state pension.

Sometimes drugs are not always the best medicine, but most people who visit a GP expect to come away with a prescription.

The list of conditions that result in free prescriptions needs expanding.
Ashma, skin condtions such as eczema often require a range of “drugs” which result in multiple prescriptions for many years.

I think when you need several drugs at a time you should not be in the position of having to decide which one of them you can afford to pay as this may affect your overall recovery.

I think the system will really be abused if everything is free.

As it is I suspect is costs a lot of money to the NHS when paracetamol is prescribed. It costs 69p in the supermarket.

Angie says:
27 February 2012

Prescritions being free here in Wales has led to
longer waiting times to see a Dr because some are going with minor ailments eg head lice, stomach comlaints etc.
Waste of drugs and resources
Since there are many who could afford to pay a small charge eg £3 could be used, still keepint them free for long term severe illnesses like diabetes, cancer etc etc and for those on benefits.
But people Must start to take responsibility for thier own health, I try to eat healthy and keep fit, have never smoked and drink only moderately, but when I neede emergency treatment locally was in a long queue behing those worse for wear with drink.

I was surprised to find that my son was not eligible for prescriptions when he went to university.

It was hard enough persuading him to go to the doctor as a young person newly away from home.

glen says:
24 June 2014

i think its discusting, what do we pay ni for if we have to pay again and again? i pay a prepayment certificate as i need constant pain killers and inhalors. however i pay my ni and hate the fact i have to pay again. what if i couldn’t afford it? i would have to be in pain or not breathe?

it really is annoying that lazy people who NEVER bother to work get all this free full stop while the rest of us pay through the nose for them to ve healthy. i am not talking about people unable to work or those who are inbetween jobs; im talkibg about the damn right lazy narcissistic *******who think they have a right to live free off tax payers backs.

There is some encouraging news that after decades of research we might be able to develop new antibiotics that could tackle problems such as MRSA and multi-drug-resistant TB. The one that is in the news is teixobactin: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-30657486

What makes this newsworthy is that it is different in mode of action from existing antibiotics and there is a possibility that resistant strains of bacteria are less likely to appear. A great deal of work still has to be done to produce the antibiotic on the scale needed and as with all new drugs, clinical trials have to take place.

The number of drugs available for prescription by GPs and hospital doctors has grown immensely since the NHS was set up. Many are inexpensive but some – particularly new ones still covered by patents – are very expensive indeed. The NHS is having problems meeting waiting times as well as providing us with drugs we need.

What many of us could do to help is not accumulating prescription drugs that we don’t need. I have seen several examples of elderly people stockpiling prescription drugs provided free of charge because they are over 60. By doing so, they could mean that others are denied expensive NHS treatment. Considerable effort has been put into educating the public not to ask for antibiotics for colds and flu, but more needs to be done to ensure that patients are not accumulating stocks of drugs. My own GP calls me in for regular medication reviews to ensure that I’m not taking any unnecessary pills.

I agree with glen x