The prescription charge in England will rise next month by 20 pence to £8.60 for each medicine or appliance dispensed, the government has announced, once again bringing to the fore the debate over the fairness of charges throughout the UK.

Prescription charges were abolished in Wales in 2007, Northern Ireland in 2010 and Scotland in 2011, but around 10 percent of patients in England are still expected to pay for their medicines, bringing more than £450 million to the Department of Health’s coffers.

But campaigners argue that, aside from the inequity of charges across the UK, the cost of prescription medicines in England is preventing some patients from accessing treatment. According to The Prescription Charges Coalition - a group of over 40 organisations campaigning to end “unfair prescription charges” for people with long-term medical conditions - 35 percent of those who had paid for each prescription item had not collected the medication because of the cost, three-quarters of which said their health had worsened as a result.

Health minister Philip Dunne stressed that the cost of the prescription prepayment certificates (PPCs) - which offer a discount to those needing regular NHS prescriptions - is being frozen for another year “to ensure that those with the greatest need, including patients with long-term conditions, are protected”. Taken together, these changes mean prescription charges are expected to rise broadly in line with inflation, he noted.

Also, existing arrangements for prescription charge exemptions will remain in place, which largely cover those with certain medical conditions like cancer, epilepsy and diabetes, pregnant women and new mothers, children under 16 and anyone over 60, and those on a low income.

However, Julie Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister for Care in the Community, said it is “disappointing to see the Government increasing prescription charges. While 20p may not seem a lot it will impact on those people who are already struggling with the rising cost of living”.

“The rise in prescription charges is a reflection of this Government’s financial mismanagement of the National Health Service. At a time when the cost of living continues to rise the Government ought to be doing much more to help people with the cost of healthcare,” she argues.