Revealed: 1m missed out on cheaper NHS prescriptions last year

Over a million patients in England paid more than they needed to for NHS prescriptions last year, according to data obtained by the UK’s biggest consumer website, (MSE). Patients could have saved an average of over £35 by getting a ‘prescription prepayment certificate' (PPC).

An NHS PPC is effectively a season ticket for prescriptions. This means you pay once and then get free prescriptions for the period covered. It costs £104 for 12 months or £29.10 for 3 months.

In the 2018/19 financial year figures disclosed by the NHS under the Freedom of Information Act(1) show that 1,042,008 paid for at least 12 prescription items over this period – meaning they would have made a saving had they bought an annual PPC. At the time, prescription items cost £8.80, so each patient shelled out a minimum of £105.60.

On average those who paid for 12 or more items actually bought around 16 items each – meaning the average saving with a certificate would have been over £35.

The number of patients missing out on cheaper prescriptions rose by more than 200,000 people compared to 2017/18, partly because the cost of individual prescription items has risen whilst the cost of the certificate has stayed the same. The number of certificates bought also rose year-on-year, and stood at over 2,250,000 in 2018/19.

Steve Nowottny, news and features editor at, said: "These figures show that an increasing number of patients are paying more than they need to for medicine and other items prescribed on the NHS. And while in some cases that will be due to unexpected illness, in other cases there will be people who do expect to need 12 or more prescriptions who are simply overpaying unnecessarily.

"While the NHS has worked hard to promote these 'season tickets' in recent months, it's clear there's still a real lack of awareness and it must do all it can to make sure all those that need the scheme can take advantage of it."


Notes to editors

(1) requested these figures for England from the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) under the Freedom of Information Act. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this doesn't apply as prescriptions are free, and some also qualify for free prescriptions in England, for example if you're under 16, 60 or over or pregnant - see a full list of exemptions

Number of people who could have saved with a prepayment certificate

Financial year Patients 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