Free NHS prescriptions to end from April? What you need to know
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Last year, the UK Government launched a consultation into aligning access to free medication in England with the state pension age, which is 66. Currently, once a resident in England turns 60 they are eligible to receive free NHS prescriptions no matter what condition they have. However, if this policy were to be implemented in full, many people who would have otherwise been entitled to this benefit would have to wait longer to get free medication.
Despite this concern, the consultation paper outlines potential options for the Government to mitigate the detrimental impact this would have on over 60s.
One option is to continue raising the eligibility threshold to the state pension age, but let over 60s who are currently in receipt of free prescriptions continue doing so.
This is considered a good idea for the Government as over 60s will continue to be supported while people will get used to the idea of the prescription eligibility threshold being the state pension age.
Furthermore, the report states the Government would receive more money from prescriptions and the Department for Health and Social Care will have more time to see how the changes affect the public.
The consultation paper stated: “From a date, we say you will have to be 66 and older to get free prescriptions.
“If you are aged 60 to 65 and already getting free prescriptions, you will keep getting them for free.
“People aged 59 and younger will have to wait until they are 66 to get free prescriptions. If you are getting free prescriptions for another reason, you will keep getting this.”
The average prescription charge in England is £9.35 per item. Those living in Scotland and Wales do not need to pay for NHS prescriptions as healthcare is a devolved matter.
Dr Eva Kalmus, the Co-chair of British Geriatrics Society GeriGPs Group, said: “People aged between 60 and 65 are often prescribed medication for long-term conditions which they will take for many years.
“Introducing prescription charges for this group is likely to result in some of this age group not taking their medication and will deliver minimal savings for the NHS.
“It may even cost the NHS more in the long term when complications or disease progression occur which medication might have prevented.”
To save money, many people opt to buy a Pre Payment Certificate (PPC) to reduce their prescription costs which is being encouraged by the UK Government.
Through a PPC, claimants are able to get as many NHS prescriptions as they need for a set price which helps those who need regular medication.
A PPC costs £30.25 for three months or £108.10 for 12 months and can be easily purchased online through the NHS.
However, Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, believes a PPC is not a fit alternative prescription payment option for those in their 60s and believes the Government should scrap its proposal to hike the free prescription threshold to the state pension age.
Ms Abrahams explained: “If someone in this age group decides their best option is to buy a Pre Payment Certificate every year it would cost them more than £600 in their run up to retirement, so from that point of view this really is a stealth tax on older people.
“However, it’s also clear that some could end up paying a lot more than that, because awareness of these Certificates is quite low, and that others could buy one and then find they would have been better off without it. This seems really unfair.
“Essentially we think this is a terrible proposal that deserves never to see the light of day. We hope that thousands of people will respond to the Government’s consultation and tell them so in no uncertain terms. Ministers definitely need to think again.”
The Government has yet to make a final decision on whether those between the ages of 60 to 65 will lose access to free NHS prescriptions.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Around 90 percent of community prescription items in England are free of charge, and people don’t pay if they are on a low income, over 60, or have certain medical conditions.
“The upper age exemption has not changed since 1995 and that is why we have consulted on restoring the link between this and the state pension age.
“We are considering the responses carefully and will respond in due course.”
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