Q&A: free prescriptions

Behind the Headlines

Tuesday January 20 2009

From April 2009 people being treated for cancer will be entitled to apply for free prescriptions, even for medication to treat unrelated conditions.

Under the new scheme patients will receive a certificate to present to their pharmacist.The scheme is expected to benefit 150,000 patients already diagnosed with cancer. Many may save up to £100 each year in prescription charges.

Anyone being treated for cancer as well as those being treated for the effects of cancer, or the side-effects of cancer treatment is eligible.

How will the scheme operate?

The scheme will operate on a certificate basis. People can apply for an exemption certificate if they are receiving treatment for:

  • any cancer
  • the effects of cancer, such as being left with a non-cancer condition as a result of having had cancer
  • or the effects of cancer treatment, such as illness after chemotherapy

People can apply for a certificate by speaking to their GP or cancer specialist.

Certificates will be valid for five years, and can be renewed as many times as necessary. Even if a person’s condition changes they will not have to return their certificate.

What medication does a certificate cover?


"Cancer not only threatens your life, but can also make you poor. Free prescriptions will transform the lives of thousands..."

Ciaran Devane, Macmillan Cancer Support

Having a certificate will grant a person free prescriptions, not only for medication treating their cancer, but also treatment of any other unrelated condition too.

A certificate does not entitle patients to receive unlicensed drugs, drugs only available privately or drugs given as part of a trial.

When will the scheme come into effect?

Certificates will be valid from April 1 2009, but the public can apply ahead of this date. Applications received by  March 24 2009 will be processed in time for April 1.

Once the scheme has started any certificates issued will be backdated to begin one month prior to receipt of application.

What about people with other conditions?

At the moment this scheme covers only people receiving treatment for cancer. Eventually the scheme will extend to cover all patients with long-term conditions.

Certain people may already be entitled to free prescriptions on age grounds or if they receive other benefits, such as income support.

People who pay prescription charges may also be able to save money by using a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC). Using a PPC allows people to pre-pay their prescription charges for a set period rather than paying charges per item.





Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

Free cancer drugs scheme begins. BBC News, January 20 2009

Cancer patients to get free prescriptions from April 1st. The Daily Telegraph, January 20 2009

Free drugs for cancer victims as England takes a prescription U-turn... one year after the Scots. Daily Mail, January 20 2009

Drugs to be given out for free. The Sun, January 20 2009

Links to the science

Cancer patients urged to apply for free prescriptions from today. Department of Health Press Release,  January 20 2009

Further reading


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