Campaigners call for government to freeze prescription charges for people with long-term conditions

Categories: Policy.

An open letter asking the Minister for Primary Care and Public Health to freeze prescription charges for 2024 and 2025 has been handed to the Department of Health and Social Care by campaigners.

The letter, led by the Prescription Charges Coalition, which represents over 50 organisations, has been backed by over 600 members of the public and was handed in on Thursday 29 February.

Campaigners have called for the prescription charge, which is currently £9.65 per item, to be frozen as people living with long-term health conditions in England are being forced to choose between heating, eating and taking their vital medication, on a daily basis. Prescriptions are free in all other nations of the UK.

Laura Cockram, Chair of the Prescription Charges Coalition and Head of Campaigns at Parkinson’s UK, said: “Living with a long-term health condition or disability often adds to the cost of living. Many need more heating to stay well and extra electricity to power assistive technology devices.

“We are deeply concerned that a further rise in the charge this year will lead to people skipping or not taking the full dose of their medication, and we fear this will have a negative impact on their health and put more pressure on the already under pressure NHS. Ultimately, the UK government needs to review the unfair exemption list.”

In 2023, research from the Prescription Charges Coalition found that nearly 10% of respondents had skipped medication in the past year due to the cost of prescriptions and this increased their physical and mental health problems, as well as impacted the time they took off work.

Paul Day, Director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association said: “A survey of more than 1,000 pharmacists in January 2024 showed that 97% had seen patients in England decline medicines due to prescription charges, with more than a quarter saying this is happening increasingly often.  Our members do not see this in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland as those nations have abolished prescription charges.”

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:

“The last thing that some of our most vulnerable patients, who are often living with chronic, long-term health conditions, need is greater financial burden at a time when rising cost of living is already making their lives – and living healthily – so difficult.

“Many patients already report struggling to pay for their prescriptions, yet if they don’t take their medication their conditions are going to worsen. We need to guard against this and ensure that those in need are protected, otherwise we’ll see existing health inequalities widen even more.”

Tase Oputu, Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, said:

“Nobody should face a financial barrier to accessing the medicines they need. Prescription charges are a stealth tax on health and increase the risk of avoidable hospital admissions, adding further pressure to the health service.

“The prescription charges system is confusing for patients and creates unnecessary bureaucracy for pharmacy teams who want to focus on patient care. Amid a cost-of-living crisis, I would urge the Government to freeze prescription charges this year and commit to abolishing this complex and unjust system.”

Ruth Wakeman, Director of Services, Advocacy & Evidence at Crohn’s and Colitis UK said: “Every year, 25,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with Crohn’s or Colitis. There is no known cure, so the vast majority will have to take medications every day to control and treat their symptoms.

“We know that the cost of prescriptions is a huge issue for people in our community. Every penny counts when you’re having to make tough decisions about paying your bills or paying for the drugs you desperately need. Life with a chronic illness is stressful enough without adding extra financial pressures.

“The list of conditions that are exempt from prescription charges is outdated and urgently needs reviewing to include Crohn’s, Colitis and many other life-changing illnesses.

“Until that happens, we urge the Government not to increase prescriptions charge this April to keep people with long-term conditions well and reduce the burden on the NHS.”

David Ramsden, CEO of Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said: “It’s shocking that many people with cystic fibrosis (CF) have to pay prescription charges, when their daily treatments are essential to stay alive. Our research shows that CF adds an additional £6,800 per year for a typical family and that 1 in 3 people affected by the condition are having to prioritise one essential – such as prescription charges, heating, and eating – over another. A further rise in prescription charges will add to this burden, so together with the Prescription Charges Coalition, we’re calling on the Government to urgently review the current exemption list so that no one with CF has to pay for the drugs they need.”

Tony Thornburn OBE, Chair Behçet’s UK said:

“Behçet’s, a debilitating and relapsing condition, can affect any organ in the body, is only treatable to a degree with off-label drugs which react differently in everyone.  It is therefore vital that people with this condition take their medication exactly as prescribed.  When money is tight this is often not the case.

“The current (historic) exemption list is illogical, has effectively been ‘cobbled together’ since its introduction in1952, and now fly in the face of the principles of equity – which is meant to underpin everything nowadays.  I merely observe that the Devolved Nations respective NHS’s treat everyone more fairly in this regard, unlike in NHS England.”

To find out more about the Prescription Charges Coalition, visit


About the Prescription Charges Coalition

The Prescription Charges Coalition is an alliance of more than 20 organisations campaigning to abolish unfair prescription charges for people with long-term health conditions.


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