Prescription and dental fees to rise

The cost of prescriptions in England is to rise to £7.40 per item from £7.20. The move will come as a blow to campaigners, including the British Medical Association (BMA), who have been calling for all charges to be scrapped altogether. Dental charges will also rise.

England is the only part of the UK still charging for prescriptions. They are free in Wales and Northern Ireland and will be free in Scotland from 1 April. The NHS in England nets more than £450m a year from prescription charges.

Last year, the Coalition Government shelved a report ordered by the previous government into how charges for patients could be reduced. The study, from Professor Ian Gilmore, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the present system of charges was "outdated and arbitrary". He said all patients with long-term conditions lasting at least six months should be exempt, with the exemption remaining for three years.

The change means the cost of an annual pre-payment certificate will remain at £104, but rise to £29.10 for a three-month certificate.

The dental charge for a band one course of treatment, such as a check-up, will increase by 50p from £16.50 to £17. A band two treatment, including fillings and a root canal, will increase by £1.40, from £45.60 to £47.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the Government was investing an extra £10.7bn in the NHS and releasing £1.7bn by cutting bureaucracy.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, said: "The principle of charging for prescriptions runs counter to the founding principle of an NHS that is free at the point of use. The BMA understands that we live in financially difficult times, but this is a tax on the sick that contributes only a modest amount to the NHS budget and does not offset the unfair disadvantage of asking the ill to pay for their medicine."

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