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Why is Boots charging £20 for tablets that normally cost a fiver?

I had to have a private prescription for generic Sildenafil and I took it to Boots in Caversham, Reading. This was not the first time I had had this prescription but the first time I had been to Boots to have it filled. The drugs is not available on the NHS which is why I needed a private prescription and have to pay the full price. The prescription was left and picked up later. At the time of pick up I got a nasty shock when I was charged £20 for some tablets I had previously got from two other local dispensing chemists for as little as £5. The label on the tablet box made clear the cost was £5. But Boots insisted on charging £20. Surely there has been a mistake?

We contacted Boots on your behalf and although there has been an error, the price of £20 for eight tablets is unfortunately correct.

A Boots UK spokesperson said: “We can confirm that this is the correct pricing for the private prescription Sildenafil 50mg which is £2.50 per tablet. Though we cannot disclose our pricing mechanism, we regularly review the prices of our private prescriptions and will continue to do so following this feedback.”

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When we presented Boots with a photo of the tablets’ misleading label they admitted there had been a mistake — but only in the labelling. Boots added: “We apologise if there was any confusion in this instance regarding the printed bag label. These are generated automatically, and for this medicine it shows the minimum cost for a private prescription is £5. We are looking into this process to make the pricing clearer for our customers and to help avoid this occurrence in future.”

But this doesn’t answer why two other local pharmacies — Rowlands in Hemdean Road – and Day Lewis on Church St charge £5 and £8 respectively for the same medication in the same quantity on a private prescription.

A private prescription (like this) could be issued by a private prescriber or by your NHS prescriber, if your treatment is not available under the NHS. As with any privately administered drug, the prescriber may also charge you for writing a private prescription.

Because these tablets have been prescribed on a private basis (as the NHS doesn’t subsidise it), unlike NHS prescriptions which have a set cost of £8.05, their price is decided by pharmacies, who can charge whatever they like.

Chemists tend to have a «minimum charge» for private prescriptions — for example Boots’ is £5. But what they choose to charge customers above this level varies wildly, so it pays to shop around — especially if its medication you’re taking regularly.

We found that giant chemist chains — Boots and Superdrug — both charge £20 for eight tablets of Sildenafil, which is the most expensive we came across. However, as you have already identified, its possible to pick up Sildenafil at a much cheaper price. For example, the Co-op Pharmacy service offers the same medication in the same quantity for just £4.90 – less than a quarter of the price in Boots and Superdrug, and just 40p more than its minimum charge for private prescriptions, which is £4.50.

To save yourself trawling around town for the best price, you can call the pharmacist directly and they’ll be able to tell you the price within minutes.

Have you been charged over the odds for medication at a chemist? We want to hear from you. Email katie.morley@telegraph.co.uk

Do you have a question for our experts? Email moneyexpert@telegraph.co.uk or write to Telegraph Money Ask an Expert, 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 0DT.

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21 Medicine Savings

Updated 19 Sep 2016

Pricey pills and health treatments can leave your wallet feeling woozy. It’s time for a MoneySaving medical to cut the price of your prescriptions and medicines.

Top tips include using an NHS ‘season ticket’ for regular prescriptions, how to get a free or cheap flu jab and the best drink to help the (generic) medicine go down. Plus we’ve recently done an in-depth investigation revealing just how much more you can pay for branded medicines.

21 medicine savings, including.
    • 1 Prescriptions in England now cost пїЅ8.40
    • 2 Do I qualify for free prescriptions?
    • 3 Get free meds for minor ailments
    • 4 Lots of prescriptions? Try pre-pay
    • 5 Don’t always use prescriptions
    • 7 Revealed: The great branded drugs rip-off
    • 8 Own-brand isn’t always the cheapest
    • 12 Don’t sneeze at hay fever savings
    • 16 Get free eye tests
    • 18 Free NHS quit smoking kit

Prescriptions in England now cost пїЅ8.40 (though everywhere else they’re free)

While prescriptions are free in the rest of the UK, most people in England pay, and on 1 April the cost rose from пїЅ8.20 to пїЅ8.40.

The aim of the prescription system is simple. It’s a flat fee, so that people can afford any necessary medicine regardless of cost. Yet for those on regular prescriptions, it can add up.

All medicines administered in hospitals or NHS walk-in centres are free (not if they prescribe you something to take away). Also free are prescribed contraceptives, medication personally administered by a GP and most sexually transmitted disease treatments.

. but a few in England do qualify for free prescriptions

Sadly if you’re in England, nipping across the border to one of the neighbours won’t help — but some still qualify for free prescriptions.

You are entitled to free medicines if:

  • You’re under 16 or over 60.
  • You’re in full-time education and 16-18 years old.
  • You’re pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months (and have a valid Maternity Exemption certificate).
  • You or your partner receive Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment & Support Allowance, or Pension Credit Guarantee Credit.
  • You have a war pension exemption certificate.
  • You’re an NHS inpatient.
  • You have a valid Medical Exemption Certificate (given for a range of illnesses, such as epilepsy or cancer, or severe disability).

If you qualify for free prescriptions, just fill in the back of the form at the pharmacist. Don’t be tempted to lie — a false declaration can lead to a fine and prosecution.

If you get free prescriptions, you can often get other free meds for minor ailments too

If you or your child has a minor health complaint and you’re already entitled to a free prescription, you may also be able to get free non-prescription medicines and treatments through the little-known NHS Minor Ailments Service.

This generally means you’ll be able to get what you need from your local pharmacist at no cost — though it’s not available everywhere.

This is great news if you or your little ‘uns suffer from the sniffles — it can save a fortune treating common conditions such as coughs, diarrhoea, eczema and headlice. It’s unlikely you’ll be given branded drugs like Calpol or Nurofen, but you can get generic, unbranded equivalents, plus things like eye-drops.

Remember. while the meds and treatments you get through the Minor Ailments Scheme are free to you, they’re paid for by the (increasingly cash-strapped) NHS — and ultimately taxpayers.

The aim of the scheme is that those who canпїЅt afford can have access to some medicines. So make sure you only get what you need if you need it. Many generic medicines cost mere pennies and are quicker to get hold of.

In Scotland all community pharmacies run the scheme, but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland it’s run by the NHS locally — some areas will offer it, but others won’t. Here’s what to do:

Step 1: Check whether the scheme’s available in your area. You’ll find it in selected Boots and Lloyds pharmacies, plus other chains and independents. Ask your local pharmacy for info.

Otherwise, in England it’s worth checking with your local health service body — ‘Clinical Commissioning Group’ in NHS jargon — to see if the scheme’s offered locally. (Find yours on the NHS website .)

Step 2: Find out if you qualify. It works differently across the UK. In some parts of England, you can just turn up at the pharmacy as long as you’re registered with a GP and eligible for free prescriptions but you’ll need to check.

Outside England, prescriptions are free for all so there are other criteria. In Scotland it’s for children, 16 to 19-year-olds in full time education, those aged 60+ and those with a medical exemption certificate or on certain benefits — see NHS Scotland. In Wales and Northern Ireland it varies, so check with your pharmacist.

  • Step 3: Go to the pharmacy. You, or your child, will need to see the pharmacist and may need to be assessed. In England, bring evidence you’re eligible for free prescriptions, eg proof of age or the relevant certificate. In Scotland you’ll also need to register with the pharmacy when you go, if you’re not already.
  • If you use NHS prescriptions regularly, prepay prescriptions can mean big savings

    Pay for a prescription and it’s пїЅ8.40 a time, so if you need them regularly it can really add up. Alternatively, you can get a prepay certificate — it’s a bit like a prescription season ticket and can mean big savings.

    A three-month one costs пїЅ29.10, a yearпїЅs costs пїЅ104 пїЅ and once youпїЅve got it it covers all your prescriptions in that time. As a rule of thumb.

    Prepay certificates tickets win for people who use more than one prescription a month.

    If your condition’s consistent, the longer certificate’s the better value of the two. Someone who gets two prescriptions a month would save more than пїЅ90 a year, compared with paying for individual prescriptions.

    How to get a certificate

    Apply via the NHS Prescriptions site. You can pay by card or, to spread the cost, direct debit. Forms are also available at certain pharmacies, or alternatively call 0300 330 1341.

    If you become eligible for free prescriptions after buying a certificate, you can reclaim the proportional cost for that time.

    NHS season tickets cost comparison

    You can backdate a certificate for up to a month

    Certificates usually start on the day applications are received. However, if youпїЅve shelled out for some in the last month you can request it’s backdated up to one month earlier пїЅ and reclaim the cost.

    If you have to pay for a prescription while waiting for your certificate, you can claim back the cost up to three months after paying.

    You must ask for an NHS receipt (FP57) from the pharmacist when you pay for the prescription(s) — you can’t get one later.

    Prescriptions aren’t always cheapest

    If you’re prescribed common medication such as painkillers or dermatology creams that are also available over the counter, often it’s cheaper to buy them that way rather than spend пїЅ8.40 on a prescription.

    There’s no hard пїЅnпїЅ fast rule, though. On the flip side, if you use a lot of medication such as three months of anti-histamine for summer hay fever, getting a doctor to do a bulk prescription is often cheaper. Plus if you’ve already bought a prepayment certificate, you’ll pay nothing extra.

    Prescription vs. over the counter

    Find the cheapest private prescriptions

    While NHS prescription prices are fixed, pharmacies can set their own for private prescriptions. These are given when you want a drug not covered by the NHS in your region, such as Malarone to prevent malaria if youпїЅre travelling and some cancer drugs.

    It could be a drug for a lifestyle-enhancing purpose, such as sexual aid Viagra (although this can be on the NHS if your erectile dysfunction’s caused by a medical problem, like diabetes, prostate cancer or had a kidney transplant) or anti-baldness drug Propecia.

    Non-NHS doctors can’t give NHS prescriptions. So go to one for emergency weekend diagnosis, or because you’re a member of a scheme, and you’ll get a private prescription.

    Always compare prices

    Unlike the world of NHS prescriptions, with private prescriptions it’s an open marketplace and pharmacies can set their own prices, meaning costs vary hugely.

    Asda has a private prescription price promise, so if you find it cheaper on an online pharmacy, print it off and take it to Asda instore. It’s mainly a question of legwork. Call up or ask in a few places.

    Private prescription costs

    The great branded drugs rip-off revealed — how to save 80%+ on meds

    The pharmaceutical industry’s full of genuine wizards — both those who make the drugs that help, and the marketeers who use a raft of tricks to persuade us there’s hidden magic in their brands. Drug companies spend millions promoting ‘only-use-the-name-you-know’ messages пїЅ but it’s often marketing baloney.

    Companies developing drugs only have unique sale rights for a set time. Afterwards, any company can make the drug, providing it meets regulations. So check the packпїЅs reverse for the пїЅactive’ ingredient пїЅ the actual medicinal element (if unsure, ask your pharmacist).

    Many generic products пїЅ unbranded or own-brand пїЅ have the same stuff, but cost much less. The same protections and quality-control apply equally to all branded and generic products.

    To show the scale of the difference, in June we looked for the cheapest price we could find, in-store and online where possible, at Asda, Boots, Home Bargains, Lloyds, Poundstretcher, Sainsbury’s, Savers, Superdrug and Tesco.

    We excluded independent pharmacies from the research as pricing can vary widely, and internet pharmacies due to the cost of delivery if you’re not bulk-buying, though both are worth factoring in as some can be competitive. Here are the results:

    Branded vs generic medicine

    We published the full findings in our reportпїЅBranded vs Generic: Cutting the cost of buying over-the-counter medicines. prepared with input from Professor Jayne Lawrence, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

    The Proprietary Association of Great Britain, which represents the branded over-the-counter medicine industry, argues branded medicines are often first to the market and so their producers carry higher development costs than those that follow.

    Important пїЅ watch out if you have allergies. If, eg, you’re lactose intolerant, it’s important to check non-active ingredients too, as these can differ between branded and generic drugs. If in any doubt ask a pharmacist, particularly if taking any other medication.

    IDENTICAL tablets, IDENTICAL brand — different packaging

    Medicines are allowed to have "informative" names on the packet, such as Bloggs Pain Relief, to help you choose the product you need.

    But this can be confusing as identical medication, such as Anadin Ultra and Anadin Period, can look completely different. (An Anadin spokesman said it does this to help customers chose between its products.)

    If you’re not sure, there’s an industry insiders’ trick you can use to be sure. Every medicine is given a product licence number (it’ll look something like PL 10000/1000). If you spot two with the same number, even if the packaging is worlds apart, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society says it means it’s the same product — that’s the same active ingredient AND the same formulation.

    Also be wary of claims that a medicine can ‘target’ specific areas. Nurofen was recently rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority for a "misleading" TV advert which it said claimed a Nurofen product could specifically target joint and back pain. See the Nurofen TV advert banned MSE news story for more.

    Own–brand ISN’T always the cheapest — identical tablets from the same store can cost much more

    The Boots and Galpharm hayfever tablets pictured here are identical — made by the same manufacturer, sold in the same store. Yet as MSE’s investigation into drug pricing revealed, there’s a пїЅ5.20 difference between them.

    While supermarket own-brands are pretty reasonable, Boots and Lloyds pharmacies in particular can be costly, so check for cheaper generics. Remember prices can change, particularly with offers and depending on the season. Here’s what we found:

    Own brand vs generic medicine

    If in doubt ask for the cheapest generic medication — though again, double-check with the pharmacist about any allergies.

    A Boots spokesman said: "We offer a wide range of hayfever and allergy treatments from various brands, allowing our customers to choose according to their own preference."

    A Lloyds spokesman said: "We have a range of combination therapies available including tablets, nasal sprays and eye drops, with promotional deals that offer great savings when customers purchase across all of these categories.»

    Ask your GP for a bigger prescription

    Doctors often automatically write out prescriptions for small amounts. If you know you’ll be coming back for more and the medicine’s not dangerous if overused, ask for a repeat prescription. But be aware that some doctors are only allowed to prescribe enough medicine to last a certain amount of time.

    Buying from an online pharmacy’s cheap, but make sure it’s safe too

    When buying online, ensure it’s an above-board UK pharmacy, not an illegal site based in some far-flung corner of the world. Follow this checklist before buying:

    Since 1 July this year, all online pharmacies selling medicines in the UK must by law display the European common logo on every page of their website.

    The logo will link to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s register of authorised online pharmacies. The General Pharmaceutical Council also runs a voluntary internet pharmacy scheme so look out for the ‘registered pharmacy’ logo too.

    Does it ask for a prescription?

    The GPhC also suggested using one that asks your for a prescription before they give you your meds. Lots of online pharmacies don’t (even registered ones). Instead, they run an online prescription service (sometimes called an ‘online doctor’), where you can enter details about your symptoms before getting a diagnosis and prescription medication. The GPhC says avoid these if you can.

    Check the use-by date

    Online pharmacies sometimes flog medication cheap because it has a short lifespan. Be sure to check the use-by date on the packet.

    Normally, tablets usually have a lifespan of a few years, so this is rarely a problem. But if you’re buying in bulk it’s worth considering whether you’ll use them in time.

    Cheap tablets taste bad? Try a glass of OJ

    While there’s no medical difference between branded and generic medicines, the packaging and the design usually differ, with nicer-coloured tablets and better-tasting coatings on premium brands. But swallow a pill with orange juice and you shouldnпїЅt notice the difference.

    Don’t use grapefruit juice though, as doctors warn it can counteract some medications.

    DonпїЅt sneeze at hay fever savings

    Where generic medicine really kicks butt is hay fever and allergy tablets. Price wars among online pharmacies sometimes see it drop as low as пїЅ4 for three monthsпїЅ worth of the same active ingredient as Zirtek, which can cost пїЅ3.29 for a week.

    See our full Cheap Hay Fever Remedies guide for the latest top deals.

    Check out supermarkets or discount stores for medicine

    The biggest saving is in switching to generic from branded medicines, regardless of where you shop. However, to grab even bigger price cuts, try your supermarket or discount stores, such as Savers.

    Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco especially have steamrollered the pharmaceutical world in the past few years, with cheap prices that often undercut the high street pharmacies.

    Remember though, if the price difference isn’t too great, buying generic at your local independent pharmacy may help it remain open in the face of stiff competition.

    Grab a free or cheap flu jab

    The flu season’s just starting, but the criteria for free flu jabs generally stay the same from year to year.

    The NHS says vaccination isn’t necessary for all, as usually healthy people who get the flu will recover within a week or so. But if you are among those most at risk it’s a must — and many choose to get it even if they’re not.

    Normally you’ll get the vaccine as an injection, although the NHS says for most children it’s administered via a nasal spray instead. The NHS vaccination programme advises most children only need a single dose but some including those with a medical condition may need two — check with your doctor.

    Do you qualify for a free flu jab?

    According to the NHS it offers free flu jabs at GPs and participating pharmacies across the UK if you:

    Are 65 years of age or over (or if you will be 65 by 31 March 2017)

    Have certain medical conditions (the NHS has a full list)

    Are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility

    Receive a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an elderly/disabled person

    Are a healthcare worker with direct patient contact or a social care worker

    Are a child who was aged between two and four on 31 August 2016.

    The NHS hopes to expand the flu vaccine programme to cover more children over the next few years. This year’s programme will also include free vaccines for children in years 1,2 and 3, those with long term illnesses and, in some areas, all children of primary school age. See the NHS website for more.

    In Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland a few others are also covered. For more information see the 2016/17 flu plan on Gov.uk.

    Some employers also offer free flu vaccinations, so it’s worth checking if you can the jab at work. These schemes are typically open to everybody but may be run on a first-come, first-served basis, so make sure you sign up promptly.

    Find it cheap elsewhere

    If you don’t qualify for a free flu jab on the NHS or at work, you’ll have to pay. You can often get one privately at your GP, but prices vary and it can be up to пїЅ20. Alternatively, here’s a rundown of what major supermarkets and pharmacies charged this winter (unless otherwise specified, jabs are for adults only):

    Flu vaccination prices comparison
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    Boots Erectile Dysfunction Clinic

    Boots Erectile Dysfunction Clinic

    If you have erection problems don’t worry, you’re not alone. Erectile dysfunction affects more than half of all men aged between 40 and 75 at some point but help is available.

    Boots Erectile Dysfunction Clinic can help you understand your treatment options and prescribe medication, if it’s suitable for you. The clinic is suitable for men aged 31 to 65 and is available at 70 Boots pharmacies.

    What happens at Boots Erectile Dysfunction Clinic?

    1 Book an appointment:

    To begin with, use our store locator to find your nearest Boots pharmacy offering the service, then call or pop in to make an appointment.

    2 Private consultation:

    You’ll have a one-to-one consultation in a private room with one of our fully-trained pharmacists.

    They’ll carry out a few checks such as measuring your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight. You may also be asked to return for a fasting blood glucose test.

    3 Receive treatment:

    Your pharmacist will talk you through your options to work out what is best for you. They may supply you with medication at the end of your appointment, if suitable.*

    If you’d like a repeat prescription, you’ll need to book a follow-up appointment with a pharmacist.

    *Subject to stock availability.

    Find your nearest pharmacy offering Erectile Dysfunction clinics

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