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A million people overpaid for prescriptions: How to cut the cost

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

More than a million people overpaid for prescriptions in the 12 months to April 2021, a survey has revealed.

People missed out on average savings of £40 in the 12-month period because they didn’t use a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) for multiple prescriptions, according to calculations by financial website MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE).

A PPC works like a NHS ‘season ticket’ – for an annual fee it covers the cost of all pharmacy-dispensed medication for one year. You can typically save money with a PPC if you pay for more than one prescription a month.

Figures from the NHS Business Services Authority, disclosed to MSE via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, show 1,063,648 people paid for at least 12 prescriptions in the 2020/21 financial year, with 16 being purchased on average.

At the time, an annual PPC cost £106, while a single prescription cost £9.15. This meant patients in England who paid each time overspent by an average of £40 over the year – a total of £43m.

In April 2021, prescription costs rose to £9.35 while the cost of an annual PPC rose to £108.10. Alternatively, a three-month season ticket currently costs £30.25, which could save someone cash if they buy four or more prescriptions in that time.

MSE founder Martin Lewis is urging people who typically pay for 12 or more prescriptions a year to consider getting a PPC.

Patients can purchase a PPC by card or direct debit on the NHS Business Services Authority website or by calling 0300 330 1341. A PPC can also be purchased in person at many pharmacies.

According to MSE, the number of people who could have saved buying an annual PPC has risen steadily for each of the past six years. The 2020/21 financial year is the third year running that more than one million patients could have saved money using one.

MSE’s FOI data also revealed that there were 2,456,160 PPCs purchased in total in the 2020/21 financial year, including both annual and three-month passes.

Martin Lewis, MSE founder, said: “England is the only one of the four UK nations that charges for prescriptions, and so it’s frustrating to hear that many people are still paying more than they need to.

“We need to spread the word to anyone who regularly gets prescriptions – including some with chronic illnesses – to check out prepayment certificates. These season tickets cap what you need to pay, as for a one-off payment, you get unlimited prescriptions for either three months or a year. My simple rule of thumb is if you get more than one prescription a month on average – these are the cheapest way. And someone getting, say, two prescriptions a month would save over £100 a year.”

Patients should always check first if they qualify for an exemption to avoid paying for prescriptions entirely. People exempt from paying prescriptions include those who receive tax credits or are pregnant.