Opinion: Why do I have to pay for pills?

As someone who suffers from a long term condition, I of all people know that prescription costs are a pain in the butt, especially on a student budget. I’ve always had a very strong opinion of prescription charges; I hate them.

I find them unfair. I suffer with severe clinical depression, and my ‘happy pills’ are all that stand between me and possibly suicide. Why do I have to pay £8.60 for a box of anti-depressants that are barely gonna last me the month?

It seems I’m not the only one with this opinion. The twitter account @EndPrescriptCha tweets and retweets the popular opinion that prescription charges should be abolished. their blog gives updates on their fight to abolish the charges, and writes in depth stories about how paying for pills affects groups of vulnerable people, how much pills actually cost the NHS in comparison to how much they cost us, and links to an online petition that anybody can sign.


One particular tweet that caught my eye detailed the prices that the NHS pay for a 28 day supply of some of the most popular prescription drugs (above). Particularly, the charge for items such as Simvastatin, a drug used to lower cholesterol in the blood. It costs the NHS 70p for 28 days. 70 PENCE. Yet, if you were prescribed this, you would have to pay £8.60 for it. This seems extensive, don’t you think?

Yet, contraceptives are free. The pill, the mini pill, the injection, the implant; all these contraceptives are free on the NHS. So why do we have to pay for things that are necessary to our health and well being? People are calling it that ‘tax on sickness’, and I’m pretty sure I agree.

Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland don’t pay for their prescriptions, but if someone in Wales were to travel to England and find themselves short of their pills, they would then have to pay to pick up their prescription in England.

So let’s go back in time, to when the NHS was founded. Prescriptions were free to all in 1948. This seemed to work well for the first three years, until the government decided to start charging in order to bring in extra money for defences. Nothing to do with health and medicine. Those charges were being spent on guns, ammo, the army. It was effectively a secret tax.

These days, I struggled to find a single piece of information online that could tell me exactly why we have to pay. I’m fed the same reason; our NHS is failing. But prescription charges don’t help with this. In fact, Welsh government members have seen their NHS improve since giving away free prescriptions. So what’s the deal?

Even health care professionals and charities are saying that the charges are absurd. Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association Council, spoke to the Daily Mail in 2011, when England became the only country to keep the charge. He said: ‘The Government should not be increasing prescription charges; it should be following the lead set by the three other nations in the UK and making plans to abolish them.’

Of course, there are exemptions to the rule. You are entitled to free prescriptions if you:

  • Are 16 or under
  • Are 16-18 in full time education
  • Are over 60
  • Have a HC2 exemption certificate to help those with low incomes
  • Are pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months
  • Receive certain means-tested benefits

A large percent of the population may be eligible for a HC2 certificate and not even know it. Students and the unemployed struggling to make ends meet are able to fill out a HC2 form, send it off, and see what help they can get. If you make less than £23,000 a year, then you could end up getting your pills for free! Click here to go to the NHS help with costs page.

On the other hand, if you have to pay full price for your prescriptions, and you’re pretty sick of it, then you can sign the petition below to help make a difference: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/200052

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