Bitterwallet’s How To… get cheap prescriptions

31 December 2010

Bitterwallet - cheap prescriptionsThe human body is rubbish. Yes, it has remarkable healing properties and so on, but once you hit a certain age it takes all manner of drugs to keep the thing functioning semi-normally. Ask your dad, he’ll tell you all about it. Then point him in the direction of this guide, where we’ll look at how to find cheap prescriptions.

NHS: who pays what?

• Scotland – currently £3, soon to be free
• Northern Ireland – free
• Wales – free
• England - £7.20

Who qualifies for free prescriptions?

Some residents of Scotland and England qualify for free prescriptions. You won’t have to pay if you:

• are under 16 or over 60
• are in full time education and aged 16-18
• are pregnant, or have given birth in the past 12 months
• are on Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment & Support
• Allowance, or Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
• have a war pension certificate
• have a valid Medical Exemption Certificate (given to cancer patients and those with severe disability, for example)

NHS Season Tickets

If you regularly pay for prescriptions, an NHS pre-payment certificate could mean cheaper prescriptions. A three-month certificate costs £28.25 (£10 for four months in Scotland); 12 months is £104 (or £28 north of the border). If you later become entitled to free prescriptions, you’ll be eligible for a partial refund.

Generally, if you pay for more than one prescription per month, you’ll save with the certificate. For example, in England, two prescriptions per month would cost £172.80 over one year, compared to £104 for the pre-payment option.

You can buy the certificates online, from the NHS Prescription Pricing Authority.

Over the counter

Some commonly prescribed medications – such as allergy tablets, painkillers and dermatology creams – are available over the counter without prescription. Often it’s a cheaper option than paying the flat £7.20. There are exceptions though; your doctor might, for example, bulk-prescribe for three months.

Private prescriptions

Some drugs aren’t covered by the NHS. Viagra, Cialis and Propecia, for example, are all classed non-essential, life-enhancing treatments. You’ll also have to fork out for Malarone, the anti-malarial.

Unlike those on the NHS, private prescriptions are an open marketplace, with pharmacies setting their own prices. As such, the cost can vary dramatically; shopping around first is definitely worthwhile. Generally speaking, supermarkets and online pharmacies are cheapest. Check out pharmacy2u and Chemist Direct on t’interweb. Or, if you prefer to buy your drugs in person, price-check the usual suspects, like Tesco, Asda, Boots and Superdrug.

It’s worth mentioning that Asda’s Price Promise extends to online pharmacies. If you can’t wait for a delivery, just print off the page and take it to Asda. Easy.

Avoid brand names

Selling drugs is big business. Often, companies will bid to become the exclusive supplier for a number of years, but it’s a free-for-all once that exclusivity expires; other companies invariably swoop in and knock chunks off the price. And, rather importantly, there are strict regulations to adhere to, so the consumer wins without scrimping on quality.

The key thing to note is the ‘active’ ingredient – the stuff that actually does the work. The packaging might be less flashy, and the taste slightly different, but – medically speaking - branded and non-branded are often identical. Again, supermarkets like Tesco and Asda are your best bet.


  • dvdj
    I currently take a perscription of Omeprazole 20mg as I have a hietus hernia so suffer from acid reflux and currently pay £7.20 for 2months perscription (56 tablets). Just checked on Pharmacy2U and they only charge 9p per tablet which would work out at £5.04! Didn't know I could but this online. I can also buy it in bigger quantities as I'm always forgetting to collect them. Another great article BW!
  • censorship?
    Sildenafil (blue, V) is available on the NHS, but you get a very limited quantity per month (one a week, pretty much).
  • verdilith
    plus, if you do get a "season ticket" prepayment cert, get your doctor to put things like paracetamol and ibuporfen on repeat for you. Mine does, saves me a fortune.
  • Owen
    One of the very few benefits of living in Wales. :D
  • la l.
    Or just buy medication illegally over the internet. No prescriptions required at all!
  • Jax
    Sorry BW but you missed out the best money saving advice though you hinted at it. Jack up your sugar intake to 1/2 kg to a kg a day, wait for the diabetes to kick in, (you'l know when you go temporary blind or start to suffer kidney disease) and just sit back and bask in the glory of free NHS prescriptions!
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