The Government has reportedly abandoned its plans to end free NHS prescriptions for people in England aged 60 to 65.

Quoting an unnamed source from the Department for Health and Social Care, the i newspaper said the Government is preparing to roll back plans to lift the qualifying age for free prescriptions from 60 to 66 – a move first proposed in a public consultation launched in 2021. ‘We are not going ahead with this idea,’ the source told the newspaper.

According to the report, the Department for Health and Social Care will go public on the U-turn in the next few weeks, with concern from Conservative MPs prompting the reversal.

The proposal to raise the age threshold for free prescriptions in line with the state pension age has been the subject of public anger and criticism from campaigners since its announcement in 2021, with the public consultation receiving 117,000 responses and an e-petition in opposition to the plan attracting approximately 45,000 signatures.

Taiwo Owatemi, Labour MP for Coventry North West and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for pharmacy, posted the i report on her Twitter account along with a post that read: ‘I welcome this news. We have long been campaigning for this. This cruel decision would have led poorer people to simply stop buying their medication, causing higher costs to the NHS for treatment over time.’

The Government was previously thought to be pressing ahead with its plans after health minister Neil O’Brien told MPs that over-60s were now “more able to meet the cost of their prescriptions” due to higher levels of economic activity and private pension payments.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘The upper age exemption for prescriptions remains at 60 years old.

‘We have taken steps to help people with the cost of NHS prescriptions. Almost 89% of prescription items in England are already provided free of charge and pre-payment certificates can be used to cap costs at just over £2 a week for regular prescriptions.

‘The consultation has concluded and its conclusions will be published in due course.'

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said it would be ‘brilliant and important news’ and ‘a victory for common sense’ if the U-turn were to be confirmed.

‘Our worry was that [the move] would have led to significant numbers cutting back their medication, or stopping it altogether, especially if they are on a low income, with disastrous consequences for their health,’ Abrahams added.

‘For example, millions of people in this age group take blood pressure tablets and statins to manage risk factors that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. It's in the national interest that we do everything we can to help the over 60s to stay fit and well as they approach their retirements and, among other things, that means encouraging them to take the medication they've been prescribed.

‘Making them pay for it would have been a step in completely the wrong direction at any time, but particularly now, given the cost-of-living crisis.’

Abrahams also thanked the ‘many thousands of people’ who campaigned with Age UK to oppose the policy proposal. ’It might have saved the Government some money in terms of prescription costs, but it would have cost the Treasury a great deal more through increased demands on the NHS as people became sicker, faster,’ she said.

A spokesperson for PSNC also welcomed news of the Government’s reversal, but added: ‘Whilst this is a positive, we don’t believe prescription charges are fair for any patients and they should be abolished. Having to pay for prescriptions often affects the most vulnerable people in our communities.

‘The sad truth is that many are left having to make difficult choices over which medicines they can afford to pay for. Prescriptions are free of charge in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland so why not in England also?’