In England, there are cases in which an individual can be exempted from prescription charges. There is an extensive list of conditions exempted from the charge, in addition to exemptions for people on certain benefits or through the NHS Low Income Scheme.
The system of exemptions as a whole means that 89 per cent of prescriptions are dispensed without charge. Additionally, patients who need more than one prescription each month can save a minimum of £20 every three months by purchasing a pre-payment certificate (PPC) from the NHS Business Authority. This covers an unlimited number of prescriptions for the length of the certificate, regardless of whether they specifically relate to the condition.
Prescription charges are put back into our NHS and generate a valuable income to the NHS budget. Between 2015/16 and 2019/20, prescription charges generated over £2.8 billion for the NHS, which contributes to patient care and essential running costs for frontline services. This money would have to be found elsewhere if charges were abolished entirely.
Currently, people receive free prescriptions when they turn 60 in England. This has not changed since 1974 for women, and 1995 for men. As you know, the Government has recently sought views on options for implementing a change in the age at which people in England become eligible for free prescriptions from the current age of 60, to 66. It is estimated that the proposed change could bring in up to £300 million more for the NHS by 2026/27.
One option included introducing a grace period meaning people aged 60 to 65 at the point of any change can continue to receive free prescriptions. The consultation did not propose any other changes to existing exemptions from charges, which remain in place for a range of ages and vulnerable groups or those on low incomes. I look forward to seeing the results of this consultation in due course and will be following developments closely.
The Department for Health and Social Care has developed its proposals so as not to have an unjustifiable adverse impact on any protected groups and welcomed views on this as part of the recent consultation. An equalities analysis in respect of these proposals will be published alongside the Government response to this consultation, which I also look forward to seeing.
Moreover, delivery of prescription medicines can be commissioned locally by the NHS, in which case it is provided free of charge to patients. I understand that in other cases, pharmacies can offer delivery services to their patients: where they do, it is a private arrangement between the pharmacy and the patient.
I am pleased that during the COVID-19 pandemic, patients who met shielding criteria were offered a home delivery option for their prescription items, unless a family member, friend, relative or volunteer could collect the medicine for them. As this was commissioned by the NHS, this service was provided free of charge. It is most welcome that the most vulnerable people have been supported in this way during this difficult time.
While I understand there are no plans at present to review the list of medical conditions which provide exemption from the prescription charge, I would be happy to provide any further updates in the event that a review is put forward.