Public outcry as pharmacists call for complete abolishment of NHS prescription charges

Free NHS prescriptions to end from April? What you need to know

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Last year, the Government consulted on plans to change the upper exemption age from 60 to state pension age, which is 66. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has stated on its website that it would like to see the complete abolishment of prescription charges in England – regardless of age group.

Last year, the non-profit membership body for pharmacists in England, Scotland and Wales, signed a letter opposing the new prescription charges.

The letter, which is addressed to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, was signed by 25 organisations from across Britain, including Age UK.

RPS represents over 46,000 pharmacists, pharmacy students, trainees and pharmaceutical scientists.

Iris Andersen, a councillor for St Mary’s in the Andover North division of Hampshire County Council has also publicly criticised the changes arguing that England ought to follow the examples of Wales and Scotland where NHS prescriptions are currently free for people of all ages.

In addition, Age UK, a leading charity for older people, has launched a campaign to save free prescriptions for 60 to 65s.

It warned that plans to increase the upper exemption age for free prescriptions could put older people’s health at risk and pile pressure on the NHS if Government plans go ahead.Almost 40,000 people responded to the Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) consultation within four weeks of campaign launch via Age UK’s website.

Just under 35,000 of them informed DHSC about why and how the changes will personally affect them.

In August 2021, Age UK urged people of all ages to respond to the Department for Health and Social Care’s consultation through its Save Free Prescriptions campaign.

The charity argues that many who are already struggling to meet basic living costs will be adversely affected by the levy and subsequently unable to manage their health conditions.

On its website, the charity states the charges penalise people in poor health who are in need of multiple medicines due to several serious long term health conditions, like heart disease or hypertension.

Since some conditions like heart disease or hypertension are more prevalent among black African and black Caribbean ethnic groups, Age UK also argues that the Government’s Impact Assessment has failed to look at whether their proposed policy will have a disproportionate impact on ethnic minority groups.

Overall, those on low income are most likely to be affected by the free NHS prescriptions changes.

In fact, thousands may be forced to ration their medication because they cannot afford the extra costs, thus exacerbating existing health inequalities, Age UK claims.

The proposed Government changes could affect up to 2.4 million people who may have new barriers to face when accessing their vital medicines.

On April 1, 2021, the prescription charge increased by 20 pence, from £9.15 to £9.35, a rise of 2.1 percent in line with inflation.

At the time, the Prescription Charges Coalition said on its current trajectory, the charge could hit £10.15 by 2025.

Over the past 10 years, the cost of prescriptions has risen by 26.4 percent, an increase of £1.95 per item, according to a report by Chemist4U.

There is speculation that the proposed changes could potentially come into force from April this year, but ministers have made no decision as of yet.

Most notably, the upper age exemption for NHS prescriptions has not changed since 1995.

It is estimated the move could bring in £300million for the NHS from 2026 to 2027.

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