Managing the cost of your medicines

If you live in England, you will have to pay for your asthma medicines

Your GP or asthma nurse has prescribed medicines to help reduce your risk of having asthma symptoms, so you can stay as well as possible. But we know that if you live in England and have to pay for your regular prescriptions, the cost can mount up especially if you have to pay for other medicines too. (If you live in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, you don't have to pay prescription charges.)

The good news is that lots of people qualify for free prescriptions. And even if you have to pay, there are ways to reduce the costs if you have a long-term condition like asthma.

What's important is that you carry on taking your medicine exactly as your GP or asthma nurse has prescribed. Taking your medicine as directed lowers your risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. So it's important that you don't skip any doses because you can't afford your medicine. And never try to space your doses out so your medicine lasts longer.

You need to take your preventer inhaler every day, even if you're feeling well, because the effects build up gradually over time. Stopping for several days at a time can mean the protection starts to wear off. Your reliever inhaler (usually blue), meanwhile, helps to treat asthma symptoms quickly, so it's vital you keep that with you all the time and make sure you never run out. If you're struggling with the cost of your medicine, speak to your GP or asthma nurse - don't just stop taking it or change your doses.

How much do medicines cost?

If you live in England, you'll have to pay for your asthma medicines, unless you fall into one of the categories below. This means that every item prescribed by a GP, asthma nurse or hospital consultant will cost the standard prescription charge. The cost of an item on prescription is £8.40 (from 1st April 2016). 

Who can get free prescriptions in England?

In England you can get free NHS prescriptions if, at the time the prescription is given out, you:

  • are 60 or over
  • are under 16
  • are 16-18 and in full time education
  • are pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months and have a valid maternity exemption certificate (MatEx)
  • have a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
  • have a continuing physical disability that prevents you from going out without help from another person and have a valid MedEx
  • hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability
  • are an NHS inpatient.

You can also get free prescriptions if you or your partner (including civil partners) are named on, or are entitled to, an NHS tax credit exemption certificate or a valid HC2 certificate (full help with health costs), or you receive either:

  • Income support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
  • Universal Credit.

You can find the full list of people who don't have to pay for prescriptions here.

It can also be found on the HC11 and HC12 leaflets, the NHS's guides to help with health costs.

To check whether you qualify for free prescriptions and get help making a claim you can call The NHS Low Income Scheme helpline on 0300 330 1343.

There’s lots of useful information about financial support and benefits for people with asthma here.

If you’ve been diagnosed with severe asthma, this condition can be classed as a disability. Find lots of useful tips and ideas about managing your finances here.

"I’ve got two inhalers and sometimes need steroids and antibiotics to help manage my asthma. Now I’m working full-time I get an online pre-payment certificate annually, so it’s easy, saves me a lot of money and gives me peace of mind - I order two inhalers at a time so I’ve always got a back-up." - Destamona Hall 

What can you do to cut the cost of your medicine?

If you pay for your prescriptions the costs can soon mount up. A Pre-Payment Certificate (PPC) can save you money if you need more than one item a month. Current charges for a PPC are:

  • £29.10 for three months (worthwhile if you need four or more items during this time)
  • £104 for 12 months (worthwhile if you need 13 items or more during this time).

If you pay by direct debit you can spread the cost over monthly instalments. That can make it easier to budget, plus you'll save money - if you need two items a month, you can save £90 with a 12-month certificate, for example.

You can get a PPC in one of the following ways:

  • Call: 0300 330 1341 (interpretation services available)
  • Online: Using the NHS's online application form
  • Post: Using the FP95 form, which is available from your local GP surgery or pharmacy or you can download it here
  • Pharmacy: The FP95 form can be used to buy PPC directly at pharmacies registered to sell the PPC

If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you don't need a PPC, as your prescription is free of charge.

Don't be tempted to cut down

Remember, you need to take your preventer inhaler exactly as prescribed to get all the benefits. If you miss doses, you'll start to lose its protective effects. Go for your regular asthma review - if your asthma's well managed, you may be able to 'step down' to a lower dose. But you should only do this if your GP or asthma nurse tells you to.

EPS is making it easier to get your prescription

The EPS is a free NHS service designed to make it easier for you to get your asthma medicines. It allows your GP to send your repeat prescriptions electronically to a pharmacy of your choice so you don’t have to worry about using paper prescriptions or making trips to your GP surgery to collect them.

If your GP practice is using the EPS, you can ‘nominate’ a place where you’d like them to send your electronic prescriptions. Simply ask your GP surgery or pharmacy to record the nomination for you. Once you’ve done this, you can re-order your prescriptions as normal through your GP practice (either online or by phone), and they will send them electronically to your chosen pharmacy or dispenser so you can collect your asthma medicines whenever it’s convenient for you.

Find out more about the EPS, and whether your GP surgery is offering the service

Last updated January 2017

Next review due January 2020