Cost of prescriptions set to rise 40p

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PRESCRIPTION CHARGES are likely to jump by 40p to pounds 4.15 from April, the Government's spending plans indicate - with a similar 10 per cent rise expected in dental charges, writes Nicholas Timmins.

The 10 per cent increase from pounds 3.75 per prescription is to be announced at the same time as headline inflation is due to fall to close to 2 per cent and when ministers are seeking a 0 to 1.5 per cent pay limit in the public sector and elsewhere in the coming year.

The rise - the same percentage increase as last year - is outlined in spending plans where income from prescription and dental charges are expected jointly to increase by 10 per cent from April. The prescription charge increase is likely to be the biggest in real terms imposed by the Government, which has raised charges every year since 1979.

Health ministers will defend the increase on the grounds that only one in five now pay prescription charges - half the proportion in 1979 when the charge was only 20p. Since the mid-1980s the proportion paying charges has fallen from 25 per cent to 20 per cent - in part because of the rising numbers of elderly who do not pay charges, and more recently because of the sharp growth in long-term unemployed, who qualify for free prescriptions if they are on income support.

Income from all NHS charges - which include hospitals' income from private patients - more than doubled between 1979 and 1989 from 2.2 per cent of NHS finance to 4.5 per cent. However, latest government figures show a slight decline to 3.9 per cent.