Saturday 21 September 2019 / 10:33 PM Health / Jonathan Ashworth / NHS

Labour announces plans to scrap prescription charges

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, will use a speech at Labour party conference today to announce that the next Labour government will abolish prescription charges in England as part of the party’s plans to expand universalism in public services.

Currently, prescriptions are free for patients living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – but cost £9.00 per item in England. This is a particular burden on people with long term conditions like asthma and chronic kidney disease who can fork out up to £104 a year on medication, or even if more if they do not opt in to the NHS pre-payment discount scheme.

Research has shown that prescription charges put people off from collecting prescribed medicine. A survey of health professionals by the Royal College of Nursing found that 87% said they have had their patients skip their medication because of the cost of their prescription. Asthma UK also found that over three quarters of people with asthma in England struggle to afford their prescriptions and over half had cut back on their medication because of the price.  One in three sufferers with rheumatoid arthritis have not collected a prescription due to the cost: women are three times more likely than men to be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said:

“Tackling widening tackle health inequalities will be an absolute priority of the next Labour government. We know that the cost of prescriptions puts people off taking the medicine they need. Not only do people suffer illnesses and the effects of illnesses more than they need to but, in the long term, it costs the NHS more money because those people who don’t take their medicines present with even more serious conditions later on. People shouldn’t be forced to choose between paying for a prescription or risking their lives.

“The NHS could actually save £20 million a year if they lifted prescription charges for people with just two conditions: Parkinson’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

“Labour made prescriptions free for people with cancer in 2008. The Tories have done nothing and exempt conditions have been otherwise unchanged for 50 years. People with Addison’s disease, chronic kidney disease, strokes, heart failure and a host of other long-term conditions must still pay for their medicine. In government, Labour will simply make all prescriptions free of charge.”


Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, said:

“Healthcare is a human right. People should not be forced to worry about the cost of their medicines.

“Bringing England in line with the rest of the UK by scrapping prescription charges for everyone is simple common sense and part of our plans to expand and upgrade our public services for the many, not the few.”



Notes to Editors

  • 87 per centof asthma patients skipped their medication because of the prescription cost

Source: Survey of Health Professionals, Nursing Times, September 2019

  • Free Prescriptions for Parkinson’s and IBS would save NHS £20m pa.

Source: Prescription Charge Coalition, 19 September 2019

(Matina Louiza, co-Chair in BBC Interview, 19/09/2019)

The Prescription Charge Coalition campaigns to end prescription charges for long term health conditions on behalf of 2 Royal Colleges and 46 patient rights organisations, including

    • Asthma UK, Children’s Liver Disease Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Disability Rights UK, Fibromyalgia Action UK, Kidney Care UK, Migraine Trust, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Muscular Dystrophy UK, National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, Parkinson’s UK, Patient Association,  Spinal Injuries Association, Stroke Association, Sickle Cell Society, Terrence Higgins Trust and
    • the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Royal College of General Practitioners
  • Three quarters of people with asthma struggle to afford their prescriptions.

Source: Asthma UK, Stop Unfair Prescription Charges, Web Retrieved 18/09/2019

  • Abolition of Prescription Charges in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Source: House of Commons Library Briefing Paper 07227, September 2018

  • The estimated England annual cost would be £745m.
    • £576 million is recovered from prescription charges annually, representing the amount of revenues lost after the abolition of charges. (DHSC accounts)
    • £170m is a generous estimate of increased take up of medicines after the abolition of charges, which may initially increase the overall bill by 1.6%, The estimate is based on the most recent observed experience of prescription charge (in Scotland, from 2011). The experience in Wales (from 2007) was stable rates of take up, broadly in line with trends.
    • £1m is a low-end estimate of savings that could be made from ending the schemes associated with administering prescription charges.