The government has committed to keeping prescriptions free for over-60s, it has been announced.

This follows a consultation on whether the age limit for free prescriptions should be brought in line with the state pension age – meaning that people would not have been able to get a free prescription until the age of 66, or later if the state pension age were to change.

The government said that its decision to keep the age of eligibility for free prescriptions at 60 was influenced by ‘a number of factors’ including the current cost of living and the increased medical needs of an ageing population.

Thorrun Govind, England board chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, described the outcome as 'a victory for common sense'.

'The original proposal to charge over-60s for essential medicines was wrong from the start,' she said.

And she said that keeping prescriptions free for over-60s would come as 'a huge relief to all those whose finances are already on the edge because of the cost of living crisis'.

She also described prescription charges as an 'unfair tax on health for people in England' and called for the 'complex and bureaucratic system' to be abolished.

'The NHS is meant to be free at the point of use, but England is the only country in the UK that continues to charge patients for their prescriptions. Medicines are the most common intervention in healthcare and should not be seen as a revenue tool,' she said.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) said that for years pharmacy teams in England had been tasked as 'tax collectors for the DHSC' through collecting prescription fees and revenue for the government.

And she added: 'The irony is that despite this, none of that revenue is invested back in community pharmacies.'

Jay Badenhorst, vice-chair of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that 'from a pharmacist’s point of view, processing prescription levies is a task which adds workload but has no patient benefit'.

'We are health care professionals and have no interest in being tax collectors,' he commented.

And he added: 'People should not be denied access to prescription medicines on the basis of their ability to pay.  Today’s decision means that we’ll avoid many more people being dragged into that situation.'

He said that increasing the upper age for prescription charge exemption would have provided 'little financial return for the NHS' and could even have led to increased costs for the health service 'as people’s health suffers from making a reluctant choice not to take their medicines as prescribed'.

'Ultimately we would like to see the government go further and scrap prescription charges altogether, though we accept this is not currently on the table,' Mr Badenhorst added.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) also confirmed today that those aged under 16, as well as those in full time education aged 18 or under, would also continue to receive free prescriptions, as would those in receipt of certain benefits.

And it highlighted the NHS Low Income Scheme and prepayment certificates (PPC) as forms of support for prescription costs.

Raising the free prescription age in line with the state pension age was first proposed in a public consultation launched in 2021, but the idea was rumoured to have been abandoned earlier this year.

Many have called for the prescription charge system to be reformed, with campaigners recently calling for the list of conditions exempt from the prescription charge to be updated, following a survey which found patients with long-term health conditions were skipping medication due to cost.

Prescriptions are free for people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society has said that the system should be overhauled in England to make prescriptions free for people with long-term health conditions, after its own survey found an increase in patients failing to collect prescriptions due to cost.

In fact, a Healthwatch England tracker survey in December found that one in 10 patients in England have avoided taking up an NHS prescription because of cost, while the same number avoided buying over-the-counter medication they normally rely on.