The Department of Health and Social Care has had a consultation on raising the free prescription age in England. There are two potential roll out options that have been recognised, one of which would see current over 60s keeping their entitlement while those aged 59 and below will have to wait six years longer to get theirs.
If the proposal succeeds it would mean that people would have to be at the current state pension age of 66 to claim free prescriptions, but future generations will likely wait even longer as the state pension age gradually rises.
The consultation started in July last year, and many have argued that it could see older Britons missing out on vital medication.
Thorrun Govind, RPS English Pharmacy Board Chair, said: “We definitely do not support raising the qualifying age for prescriptions to 66 during a pandemic as it could have a severe impact on older people in England.”
On the other hand, it has been noted that this change could generate much-needed income for the NHS.
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The consultation noted that in England in 2018, 63 percent of prescriptions items were dispensed for free because the patient was aged 60 or over.
It also argues that those on low income could still get assistance with their medical bills through other methods.
This includes the NHS Low Income Scheme or prepayment certificates.
NHS prescriptions currently cost £9.35 per item in England (but they’re free in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales), but prepayment certificates could offer a discounted price for those receiving multiple prescriptions.
There are two types of prepayment certificates, a three month certificate which costs £30.25 and a 12 month which costs £108.10.
Due to the price, a three month certificate will only be beneficial for people who have four or more prescriptions in this time period.
The 12 month certificate similarly will only be cheaper for those who have at least 12 prescription items during this time.
However, despite these options some have noted that the vulnerable elderly who require constant medication may not be able to afford the certificate in the first place.
Age UK shared their concerns saying: “The Government says these people could buy a certificate to cut their costs, at £108 a year.
“Seen from this point of view the Government’s proposal is really a stealth tax, which could extract an extra £600+ from men and women in their run-up to retirement.”
Another concern is that the over 60s who cannot afford their medication will begin to ration them or avoid collecting their prescriptions in the first place.
This could likely lead to worsening health conditions in the older population, making higher NHS costs should they require intensive treatment or hospitalisation as a result.
Should the proposal go through, there are two possible options to raise the qualifying age, the first being to simply raise it for everyone.
This would see people aged 60 to 65 losing their entitlement overnight and having to pay for items they previously got for free.
The second option provides some transitional protection, with those currently aged 60 to 65 still receiving free 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 years old, 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 with the state pension age. No decision has yet been made – we are considering the responses carefully and will respond in due course.”
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