NHS prescription charges in England are to be frozen for the first time in 12 years, the government has confirmed.
Single prescription charges, which the Department of Health said would normally rise “in line with inflation”, will remain at £9.35 until next year.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said freezing the costs would “put money back in people’s pockets”.
Campaigners welcomed the move but pointed out that 90% of prescriptions dispensed are already free of charge.
People eligible for free prescriptions include those on state benefits, pregnant women and new mothers, people with specified medical conditions or disabilities, the over-60s and under-16s.
Prescriptions are free for everyone in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The cost of a single prescription in England has risen from £7.65 in 2012-13 to £9.35 in 2021-22, including an increase of 20p from 2020-21.
However, the government had indicated in March that prescription charges in England, which are reviewed annually, would not be increased this year and Sunday’s announcement confirms that move.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the freeze meant prescription charges would not increase until at least April 2023 and would save patients who pay prescription charges in England £17m.
The freeze also applies to the £30.25 for a three month prescription prepayment certificate (PPC), and the 12-month charge, which can be paid in instalments, will stay at £108.10.
“The rise in the cost of living has been unavoidable as we face global challenges and the repercussions of Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine,” Mr Javid said.
“Whilst we can’t completely prevent these rises, where we can help – we absolutely will.”
The announcement comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked ministers to come up with measures to ease the pressure on household budgets.
However, Faith Angwet, a single mother of two, said she had to choose between paying for prescriptions to treat for her high blood pressure, or using that money to feed her children.
She said the price freeze “won’t go far” because “it’s not necessarily the outgoings affecting me, everything is going up in price and I’m not able to afford everything I use to be, including my prescription”.
And Claire Anderson, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said people who do not qualify for free prescriptions because of their income, age, or medication type, often had to make decisions about which medicines they need.
“Those medicines are prescribed for a reason because that patient needs that treatment,” she told the BBC.
And Laura Cockram, chairwoman of the Prescription Charges Coalition, who welcomed the freeze, said the government should review the list of those who qualified for free prescriptions.
She said the prescription exemption charge list was put together more than 50 years ago, when conditions like HIV “didn’t even exist” and at a time there “weren’t life saving treatments for things like asthma, Parkinson’s and MS”.
The government recently proposed increasing the age for free prescriptions from 60 to be in line with the stage pension age – 66 for men and women – but the DHSC said no decisions have been made on this.
GP Dr Sarah Jarvis said this would make the cost living crisis harder for older people, who the “vast majority” of medicines are prescribed to, because “they’re the ones who are most likely to have multiple medical conditions”.
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