The Library briefing paper on NHS charges (updated 6 January 2022) provides an overview of the operation of the prescription charge in England (there is no such charge in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). The briefing sets out who is exempt from prescription charges in England, including the medical conditions which receive an automatic exemption. The list of medical exemptions from prescription charges was agreed in 1968. The only addition to the list since then has been the treatment of cancer in 2009. Cystic fibrosis was not included on the list in 1968. In their 2006 report on NHS Charges the Health Select Committee noted that most babies born with cystic fibrosis in 1968 did not live beyond childhood, and so the issue of prescription charges was not relevant: patients were automatically eligible for free prescriptions due to their young age. The Cystic Fibrosis Trust note that in the UK there are now more adults than children living with the condition.

As well as the medical exemptions, and exemptions related to receipt of certain benefits or being of a certain age, there are schemes to help reduce the cost of prescriptions for those who are not exempt from charge. These include the NHS Prescription Prepayment Certificate and the NHS Low Income Scheme.

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust provides information the prescription charge for people with the condition. The Trust is part of the Prescription Charges Coalition (PCC), a group of over 50 organisations campaigning to end prescription charges for people with long-term medical conditions not currently on the medical exemption list.

On 26 April 2021 the Government responded to a Parliamentary Question about whether they planned to review the list of conditions for exemption from prescription charges; and if they would make an assessment of the potential merits of including (a) cystic fibrosis and (b) other life-long medical conditions in that list. The Government confirmed there were no plans to reconsider the list of exempt medical conditions (PQ184378):

The Government has no plans to review or extend the prescription charge medical exemptions list. Approximately 89% of prescriptions are dispensed free of charge and extensive arrangements are already in place to help people, including those with cystic fibrosis and other life-long medical conditions. To support those with the greatest need who do not qualify for an exemption, they can spread the cost of their prescriptions by purchasing prescription pre-payment certificates. A holder of a 12-month certificate can get all the prescriptions they need for just over £2 per week.


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