State pension age changes to free NHS prescriptions slammed as ‘tax on the sick’

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

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Last year, the Government launched a consultation into aligning eligibility for free prescriptions in England through the NHS with the state pension age, which is currently 66 years old. Currently, residents in England are able to get free NHS prescriptions once they turn 60 years old however this may change in the near future. If the proposals were to become law, those in England between the ages of 60 to 65 will have to start paying for their medication, despite otherwise being eligible for the support prior to the change.

Prescription charges are paid by most adults in England, unless they qualify for an exemption, and cost £9.35 per item.

In comparison, residents in Scotland and Wales are eligible for free prescriptions no matter what age they are as the NHS is a devolved part for their respective Governments.

The discrepancy and “tax on the sick” imposed on people who live in London has been criticised by a variety of organisations.

In an open letter, health bodies and charities like Age UK, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the British Geriatrics Scotland are lobbying the Government to rethink its proposal to align free NHS prescriptions with the state pension age.

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According to research carried out by Age UK, the proposal will have a long-lasting negative impact on 52 percent of those aged to 60 to 64 who have more than one long-term illness or health condition.

The organisations believe it will be harder for the country’s older population to manage their health and will eventually put further pressure on the NHS.

As a result of this, many health organisations believe it is crucial that the Government keeps access to free NHS prescriptions in England for those in their 60s a priority.

However, some believe the Government’s “tax on the sick” will be scrapped entirely in lieu of a similar NHS prescription system found in Scotland and Wales.

Thorrun Govind, the Chair of RPS’ English Pharmacy Board, explained what the likely impact of the Government’s plans will have on over 60s.

Mr Govind 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.”

Dr Jennifer Burns, the President of the British Geriatrics Society, outlined what is at stake for many people over the age of 60 in the UK who are reliant on “freebie” benefits, such as free NHS prescriptions.

Dr Burns explained: “We are dismayed to hear that the Government is considering increasing the age at which people in England become eligible for free prescriptions.

“It is essential that older people with multiple long-term conditions are able to access the medications they need to effectively manage their health.”

In light of the criticism, the Government has recommended that people concerned about the cost of their medication purchase a ‘Prescription Prepayment Certificate’ (PPC) to reduce their bill.

A PPC costs £108.10 but requires those who get it to either pay a substantial payment up-front or arrange a direct debit, which may prove difficult for some people.

According to Age UK, public awareness about the prescription certificate is low with only 27 percent of identifiable ‘high’ prescription users between the ages of 55 and 59 knowing about it.

‘High users’ is the term used to describe people who need more than 12 regular prescriptions per year.

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