Pharmacy minister Neil O'Brien writes exclusively for The Pharmacist on why the Department for Health and Social Care considered changing the upper age limit for prescription charges - and why this week it announced its decision not to.

Advances in healthcare and medicines means more people are living longer which provides great benefits, but also additional costs and it is right for the government to properly consider how these costs are funded.

Prescriptions have to be paid for whether by a direct charge or through taxation because medicines, and the development of them, costs money; a balance must be found.

The average retirement age is now 64 for women and 65 for men while the state pension age – the age at which individuals are eligible to receive the state pension – is 66 and will be rising to 68 in future years.

So it was right for the government to consider whether the upper age for prescription exemption should rise in line with the state pension age. That’s why in 2021 we launched a consultation.

We received 117,000 responses, most of which suggested people wanted to be able to continue receiving free prescriptions from age 60.

The cost of living and the increased medical needs of people as they get older were cited as reasons to freeze the age. It was right the government properly considered the submissions and have factored these into the decision taken today,

This week we have confirmed the upper age exemption will remain at 60.

I can also confirm we are not changing any other exemptions at this time. Those aged under 16 or 17 or 18 but in full time education will continue to receive free prescriptions.

Those in receipt of certain benefits will continue to receive support and the NHS Low Income Scheme will continue.

It remains the position of this government that some patients in England can and should continue to pay prescription charges to contribute to the cost of running the NHS.

The revenue from prescription charges contributed more than £650 million towards the provision of vital NHS services but around 89% of prescription items dispensed in the community are done so free of charge.

This government will continue to find the right balance, will continue to listen and will continue to support those who need it.

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