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Revealed: Over a million could have saved on NHS prescriptions with a 'season ticket' last year

Revealed: Over a million could have saved on NHS prescriptions with a 'season ticket' last year

More than a million patients in England paid more than they needed to for prescriptions last year and could have saved an average of £40 with an NHS 'prescription payment certificate', new data obtained by MoneySavingExpert.com reveals.

NHS figures disclosed to MoneySavingExpert.com under the Freedom of Information Act show that 1,058,147 people paid for at least 12 prescription items in the 2019/20 financial year. Each prescription item in England cost £9 over this period – meaning each patient shelled out a minimum of £108.

Yet a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC), which is basically a season ticket for prescriptions and means you pay once and then get free prescriptions for the period covered, costs £104 for 12 months. And on average those who paid for 12 items or more actually bought about 16 items each – meaning the average saving with a certificate would have been about £40.

The number of people who could have saved by buying an annual PPC has steadily risen for each of the last five years, and it's the second year running that more than a million could have saved with one. In the past year, there were 2,574,942 PPC applications (this includes annual and three-month applications).

The prescription charge in England is now £9.15 per item, having risen in April 2020. The annual PPC also went up in price at the same time and costs £105.90, but will still save you cash if you pay for 12 or more prescription items per year. You can also buy a three-month PPC, which costs £29.65 and will save you cash if you pay for more than three prescribed items in three months.

See full info and more ways to cut the cost of prescriptions in our 22 Medicine Savings guide.

What do the NHS figures show?

The data in the table below shows the number of people in England who would have saved money had they bought a PPC. (In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this doesn't apply as prescriptions are free. Some also qualify for free prescriptions in England, for example if you're under 16, aged 60 or over, or pregnant – see a list of exemptions.)

The cost of an annual PPC has remained at £104 over the period mentioned below (though since April, it's gone up), yet the cost of prescriptions has gradually risen. In 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18, individual prescription items cost £8.20, then £8.40, then £8.60, so in these years anyone buying 13 or more items could have saved with an annual certificate.

In 2018/19 though, the individual cost of prescriptions rose to £8.80, so anyone buying 12 or more could have saved, and this remained the same when prescription costs rose to £9 in 2019/20.

How many could have saved with a prepayment certificate?

Financial year Patients in England who could have saved with an annual PPC Items bought
2015/16 745,764 13,394,446
2016/17 825,693 14,759,547
2017/18 828,257 14,678,616
2018/19 1,042,008 17,129,311
2019/20 1,058,147 17,277,253

Check first if you even need to pay

If you'll save with a prepayment certificate, before buying one always check first if you qualify for an exemption and can avoid paying for a prescription entirely. You can check your eligibility on the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) website.

Consider too that 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 than spending money on a prescription.

How to buy a prepay certificate

The quickest way to buy a PPC is to buy online, though you can also purchase it in many pharmacies or by calling the NHSBSA on 0300 330 1341. If buying online or over the phone, you can pay by card – if getting a 12-month PPC, you also have the option of paying over 10 months by direct debit.

If you become eligible for free prescriptions after buying a certificate, you may qualify for a full or partial refund. Time limits and conditions apply – check the NHSBSA website for full details.

If you buy a PPC online, you can get an instant digital certificate, but if you apply for a PPC via a different method and pay prescription charges while waiting for it to arrive, you can get a refund as long as:

  • You get an NHS refund form (FP57) when you pay, as you can't get one later.
  • The PPC covers the date you paid for your prescription.

'If you pay more than once a month, this will likely cut the cost'

Steve Nowottny, news and investigations editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "These figures show a huge number of patients are paying more than they need to for medicine and other items prescribed on the NHS.

"Of course, it's sometimes impossible to predict if you'll need a prescription, and if people fall unexpectedly ill that may be unavoidable in some cases. Yet there will be many, for example those with chronic illness, who will be aware they'll likely need to pay for lots of prescriptions – and as a rule, if you pay for a prescription more than once a month, a prescription payment certificate will likely cut the cost.

"While the NHS has tried to promote these 'season tickets', there are clearly many who aren't aware they can save – so more must be done to ensure patients aren't unnecessarily overpaying."

What does the NHSBSA say?

An NHSBSA spokesperson said: "The NHSBSA promotes PPCs using a variety of methods – on social media channels, working with pharmacists to promote in-pharmacy, and signposting with helper organisations.

"It's quick and easy to apply online and your PPC gets emailed to you straight away. Apply for a PPC online at www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/ppc. You can also pay for a 12-month PPC by direct debit.

"Use the online eligibility checker at www.nhs.uk/checkbeforeyoutick to see if you're eligible for help with your health costs. You can also check if your current PPC is still valid by using the tool at the end of the page."