Martin Lewis has revealed his top tips for keeping the cost of prescriptions down on his website Money Saving Expert ahead of a price increase in April. Despite the cost of living crisis already squeezing households, prescription costs are set to rise by 30p from £9.35 to £9.65 from April 1 - an increase of 3.2%.
The cost of prepayment certificates, which cover multiple NHS prescriptions for a set price, will also increase from £30.25 to £31.25 for three months and from £108.10 to £111.60 for a year.
The increase in NHS prescription costs comes after the annual price rise was frozen in April 2022 due to the cost of living. It was the first time the Government did not impose an annual hike in 12 years.
Top tips to keep the cost of prescriptions down, according to Money Saving Expert
Check eligibility for free medicines
Prescriptions are free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but cost money in England. However, some people still qualify for free prescriptions:
- People under 16 or over 60
- People in full-time education and 16-18 years old
- People who are pregnant or gave birth in the last 12 months, and have a valid maternity exemption certificate
- People who have a valid medical exemption certificate, also known as “MedEx”
- People who are receiving Universal Credit whose earnings for the most recent assessment were £435 or less
- People under 20 who are the dependant of someone who receives certain benefits such as income support or income-based jobseeker’s allowance
- People who have a war pension exemption certificate
- NHS inpatients
- People with or named on a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate (you qualify if you get child tax credits, working tax credits with a disability element and have income for tax credit purposes of £15,276 or less)
- People with valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs, also known as HC2
You can check your eligibility for free medicines on the gov.uk website.
Check if you can save with a prepayment certificate
A single prescription in England currently costs £9.35, so if you need them on a regular basis it can add up. If you take out frequent prescriptions a prepayment certificate, which is a bit like a prescription certificate, may help cut costs. A three month prepayment certificate costs £30.25 or £108.10 for the year. You can spread the cost over 10 months paying £10.81 per month for a year, and it covers all your prescriptions in that time.
Note that the cost of prepayment certificates will also increase by 3.2% from April 1. You can apply for a prepayment certificate via the NHS Prescriptions website.
Check if your pharmacy is running an NHS minor ailments scheme
If you or your child has a minor health complaint and you’re already entitled to a free prescription, you may also be able to get free non-prescription medicines through the NHS minor ailments scheme. It usually means you’ll be able to get what you need from your local pharmacist at no cost – though it’s not available everywhere.
The scheme can save a fortune treating common conditions such as coughs, diarrhoea, eczema and head lice. It’s unlikely you’ll get branded drugs such as Calpol or Nurofen, but you can get unbranded equivalents and medications such as eye drops.
You can check if a pharmacy is participating in the scheme in your area and if you qualify on the NHS website.
Find the cheapest private prescriptions
NHS prescription prices are fixed but pharmacies can set their own for private prescriptions. These are given when you want a drug not covered by the NHS in your region, such as Malarone to prevent malaria if you’re travelling and some cancer drugs.
Non-NHS doctors can’t give NHS prescriptions. So go to one for emergency weekend diagnosis, or because you’re a member of a scheme, and you’ll get a private prescription.
Unlike the world of NHS prescriptions, private prescriptions come with an open marketplace and pharmacies can set their own prices, meaning costs vary hugely, so be sure to compare costs.
Check if getting a prescription is actually the cheaper option
If you’re prescribed common medication such as painkillers or dermatology creams that are also available over the counter, often it’s cheaper to buy them that way rather than pay for a prescription. For example, Aqueous cream costs around £3.59 to buy over the counter but over £9 through a prescription.
There are exceptions though, such as if you need to buy a lot of medication in bulk or if you’re already covered by a prepayment certificate, so be sure to check.