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How to save money on prescriptions and medications

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

The price of a NHS prescription is going up 30p from April, but there are several ways you can cut the cost.

The Government has applied an inflation rate of 3.21% to prescriptions this year, meaning the cost of a single prescription is rising from £9.35 to £9.65 from 1 April 2023.

But there are several ways you can cut the cost of prescriptions and over-the-counter medication.

Get a prepayment certificate

If you buy four or more prescriptions in three months – or 12 or more prescriptions in a year – you could save money with a prepayment certificate (PPC). A PPC covers all NHS prescriptions, including dental prescriptions, no matter how many items are needed.

PPCs can be bought online via the NHS website. A three-month prepayment certificate currently costs £30.25 and a 12-month option costs £108.10. The prices of these will go up from April – with the three-month PPC costing  £31.25 and the 12-month PPC £111.60.

If you buy a 12-month PPC, you can either pay upfront or by 10 direct debit instalments.

Which? found that consumers could make significant savings with a 12-month PPC compared to paying separately for each prescription. For instance, someone paying prescriptions for two items per month could save £116.30 a year. For three items a month, the saving would be £228.50, and for four items each month, the saving would be £340.70.

Get a HRT prepayment certificate

Women going through the menopause who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) will be able to access a new type of prescription prepayment certificate from the beginning of April.

The new PPC will last for 12 months and will cost £19.30 – the equivalent of two individual prescription charges. You’ll be able to use the PPC for as many menopause prescription items as needed for a whole year.

Free prescriptions

Prescriptions are free in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

There is usually a charge in England, but there are some medications that are free including contraceptives and drugs administered to patients in hospitals.

Some people may also qualify for free prescriptions due to their age, if they have a low income or receive certain benefits, or if they have a medical condition.

Women who are pregnant or have had a baby in the past 12 months can also get free prescriptions with a valid maternity exemption certificate.

Ask for a bigger prescription

It is worth asking your doctor for a larger prescription, especially if it is for a medicine you take regularly which is not dangerous if overused.

Doing this means you’d only have to pay one prescription charge for a higher quantity of medicine. For example, if you take cream for eczema, you could ask if the cream comes in a larger-sized bottle. However, be aware your doctor might not be able to say yes.

Ditch branded painkillers

A lot of common medicines, such as painkillers, can be bought over the counter without needing a prescription from your GP.

But branded painkillers can be expensive – budget and non-branded versions of common painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen usually cost a fraction of their branded counterparts. These cheaper versions contain the same active ingredients and work in exactly the same way as the more expensive drugs.

A Which? investigation found that a 16-pack of Asda’s own branded ibuprofen cost just 80p, less than half the price of a pack of Nurofen in Asda which cost £1.89.

Think twice about combination remedies

Some cold and flu medicines offer combination preparations that are advertised as a comprehensive remedy for a given ailment.

For example, ‘cold and flu’ tablets usually contain caffeine, paracetamol, and phenylephrine hydrochloride, a decongestant. However, a similar caffeine effect can be achieved by taking a much cheaper generic paracetamol and drinking a cup of tea or coffee.

Reena Sewraz, Which? Money expert, said: “As the cost of living crisis continues to pile pressure on household budgets, and with prescription costs due to rise next month, many of us will be looking for ways to save.

“If you frequently buy prescriptions, you can make significant savings by purchasing a prepayment certificate. Where a prescription isn’t required, you should avoid buying pricey branded medicines and opt for cheaper own-brand or generic painkillers instead.”