Prescription charges to increase by 20p in England

prescription charges
Image caption England is the only part of the UK still charging for prescriptions

The cost of prescriptions in England will rise by 20p to £7.40 per item from 1 April, the government has announced.

The move will be a blow to the British Medical Association (BMA), which has been calling for charges to be scrapped altogether.

Earlier this week MSPs voted to scrap NHS prescription charges in Scotland, while Wales and Northern Ireland have already removed the charges.

The Department of Health said removing charges in England would cost too much.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health said: "The extensive exemption arrangements we have in place mean that in England, around 90% of prescription items are already dispensed free of charge.

"The price of the 12 month prescription pre-payment certificate will be frozen for the second year running. This allows people to get all the prescriptions they need for an average cost of £2 per week.

The government went on to say that the NHS would be left with a shortfall of more than £450m per year if prescription charges were removed altogether in England.

"This is valuable income - equivalent to the salary costs of nearly 18,000 nurses, or 15,000 midwives, or over 3,500 hospital consultants. This income helps the NHS to maintain vital services for patients," the Department of Health said.

The government also said it is investing an extra £10.7 billion in the NHS and cutting back on bureaucracy, which will release an extra £1.7 billion every year for patient services.

Postcode lottery

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of BMA Council, which has been asking the government to abolish prescription charges, said: "The current system is a chaotic and unfair mess.

"Patients in England have to pay, while those in Wales and Northern Ireland do not. From 1 April Scotland will completely scrap its charges, a move that further exaggerates the absurd postcode lottery that exists in the UK.

"The bureaucracy needed to administer prescription charges is cumbersome, many of the exemptions are confusing and unfair. Patients with disabling long-term conditions still have to pay them despite a recent report recommending they be phased out."

Dr Meldrum added that the principle of charging for prescriptions runs counter to the founding principle of an NHS that is free at the point of use.

"The BMA understands that we live in financially difficult times, but this is a tax on the sick that contributes only a modest amount to the NHS is budget and does not offset the unfair disadvantage of asking the ill to pay for their medicine," he said.

Scottish plan

The Scottish government won the approval of Holyrood's health committee to remove the current £3 charge.

A last-ditch Conservative and Lib Dem move to block the plan failed in Scotland.

The price paid by Scottish patients for prescription medicine has been reduced each year since 2008 and the final vote will see charges removed on 1 April.

Scottish government health minister Shona Robison said lifting the charge would reduce the long-term cost to the health service and would no longer put people off going to see their doctor.

The Scottish government has played down the risk of people in England travelling across the border to claim free prescriptions.

The Department of Health in England has also announced that dental charges will rise.

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