Health bodies and charities are urging ministers to reconsider the Government’s proposal to scrap free prescriptions for patients aged 60-66 to prevent exacerbating health inequalities and additional costs to local health services.
Until now, people over the age of 60 in England could avoid prescription charges. The blanket exemption also applies to people under-
However, in July, the Government launched a consultation on whether to raise the minimum age for free prescriptions in England, to help the NHS claw back the money it lost from the pandemic.
In a letter written to the health secretary and signed by 25 organisations from across the UK, including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), the bodies shared their concerns about the proposal to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions.
‘There is no doubt that it will have a lasting adverse impact on the 52% of 60-64-year-olds with one or more long term conditions. Some will find the change affordable but significant numbers will not,’ the letter explained.
The letter also said that raising the minimum age would not save the NHS money in the long term.
‘The DHSC [Department of Health and Social Care] has estimated savings of £198-£257m p.a. for the NHS as a whole, a tiny fraction of the NHS £212.1bn budget for 2020/21.
‘What’s more, this estimate does not take into account the additional costs to local health services of having to address the more complex issues that will arise for people in this age group who will no longer feel able to afford their medication,’ they said.
In the public consultation, which is due to close today (2 September), the Government suggests that age eligibility for free prescriptions should be raised from 60 to 66 to be in line with the state pension age.
However, in the letter, the organisations argue there is more to consider when it comes to who should be eligible for free prescriptions.
The letter said: ‘Most of us will live with one or more health conditions as we age and for many in their sixties this can mean needing to take medicines into the longer term, to preserve and protect their health for the future.
‘The fact that the existing exemption helps to remove any potential barriers to achieving this is really important – just as significant, in fact, as the exemptions that help people on low incomes to afford their medicines.’
Thorrun Govind, RPS chair of the English board said: ‘The proposal to raise the age at which people can access free prescriptions from 60 to 66 means that many more people will be affected by this tax on the sick at exactly the time at which they may be needing more medicines.
‘It is unacceptable to raise the cost of prescriptions in the current economic situation when many have been disadvantaged by the pandemic. Such proposals will only further drive the health inequalities that have been highlighted by Covid-19.
‘RPS would like to see the complete abolishment of prescription charges in England, whatever the age group, as is the case in Scotland and Wales,’ she said.