Cheap and free prescriptions 2020: how to save on medicines in the UK

Updated on 04 March 2020

The cost of NHS prescriptions in England will rise from April 2020. Here’s how to get cheap and free prescriptions and over the counter medicines.

Prescription costs keep rising

The cost of NHS prescriptions will increase by 15p in April, meaning the price of a single prescription will cost £9.15.

This only applies to prescriptions in England. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland prescriptions will continue to be free.

Check if you qualify for free prescriptions

In England, you can get access to free prescriptions if you are:

  • Under 16 or over 60;
  • You’re 16-18 and in full-time education;
  • You’re pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months (and have a valid Maternity Exemption Certificate);
  • Your doctor has prescribed contraceptives;
  • You’re an NHS inpatient;
  • You have a War Pension Exemption Certificate;
  • You or your partner receive Income Support, Income-based jobseeker’s allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit or Universal Credit;
  • You have a Medical Exemption Certificate (which is given to those with illnesses like cancer or a severe disability).

If you qualify for free prescriptions, you just need to fill in the back of the form at the pharmacists.

Get a Prescription Payment Certificate (PPC)

A Prescription Payment Certificate (PPC) can help you save money if you need multiple prescriptions for your health.

It essentially acts as a season pass that allows unlimited prescriptions for a one-off cost for a set period of three or 12 months.

Sadly, the Government is also hiking the cost of both from next month, but could still save you a tidy sum if used often enough.

A three-month PPC will set you back £29.65 from April (currently £29.10), so makes sense if you think you will need to get four or more prescriptions within this timeframe.

An annual PPC will cost £105.90 (up from £104), which is worth going for if you need 14 or more prescriptions over a 12-month period.

PPC savings according to the NHS (Image: NHS)

You can pay in 10 monthly instalments if you choose to go for the 12-month PPC, which means you will pay £10.40 a month to get unlimited prescriptions from your doctor.

You can order a PPC online or call 0300 330 1341.

Don’t always use a prescription

The cost of a prescription is charged at a flat rate of £9 per item (£9.15 from April), which applies no matter the type of medication you order.

But if you’re prescribed over the counter medication like painkillers or eczema creams it may be cheaper to buy them outright than paying £8.80 for a prescription given to you by your doctor.

A 500ml tub of Aqueous cream, for example, is £3.59 at Boots, so using a prescription could leave you out of pocket.

Ask for a bigger package

If your prescription is for something that you will need repeatedly and there’s no risk of it expiring before you finish it, you could ask your doctor for a bigger prescription to make it worthwhile.

So rather than 24 painkillers, you could get 36 on the same prescription.

Shop around (and try online)

If you’re going to buy your over-the-counter medication without a prescription, make sure you compare prices.

Apart from big names like Boots and LloydsPharmacy, you might be able to save with an online pharmacy like Chemist Direct.

Try subscribe and save

For over the counter medications you need regularly you might be able to save by subscribing.

Amazon’s Subscribe and Save for example allows you to save 5%-15% when you regularly order the same product to the same address.

Swap branded for own-brand medicines

Branded medicines from the likes of Neurofen or Clarityn usually attract a huge markup compared to generic or own-brand versions.

Last year a study found that a box of Nurofen Ibuprofen painkillers can cost more than £2 for 16 tablets, but generic alternatives offered by supermarkets like Tesco could be bought for just 35p.

As long as the ‘active’ ingredients are the same, the medicine will have the same effect, just watch out for other non-active ingredients for anything you may be allergic to.

Swapping could save you money on over-the-counter medications like painkillers, hay fever medication, vitamins and aspirin.

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