‘Tax on the sick!’ Over 60s could lose free prescriptions due to state pension changes

Martin Lewis offers advice on NHS prescriptions

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A recent Government proposal suggests that access to the “freebie” benefit will be raised to align with the state pension age, which is 66 years old. Currently, residents in England are able to access free prescriptions on the NHS once they turn 60. However, if this proposal is implemented many in this age group will have to wait longer to receive support they would otherwise have been entitled to.

In an open letter, Age UK, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and the British Geriatrics Society are calling for the Government to halt its proposal to end free medication for this age demographic.

Specifically, the RPS is lobbying for the end of prescription fees altogether in England similar to other parts in the UK.

For example, those who live in Scotland and Wales are able to enjoy free prescriptions as the NHS is a devolved power in both countries.

Within the letter, representatives of the health organisations addressed how aligning access to free prescriptions with the state pension age would exacerbate existing health inequalities.

Thorrun Govind, the Chair of RPS’ English Pharmacy Board, explained: “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, emphasised what is at stake for many people in their 60s if the end up losing access to free prescriptions.

Dr Burns said: “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.”

Through Age UK, people who would be affected by the state pension change are voicing their opinions and sharing how they will be detrimentally affected by the decision.

Sandra, who is in her 50s and reached out to Age UK about her concerns over the proposal said: “I will soon be 60. I spend £9 odd on one item of medication.

“At the moment I am afraid to tell the doctor of my added illness as I cannot afford the prescription price and barely manage my health issues with the medication I have.”

Barry, who is in his early 60s, added: “Having been forced into retirement seven years ago due to a stroke, my income dried up and my savings have long-since gone.

“Without free prescriptions I would almost certainly opt to miss some medicines thereby possibly making myself ill.”

Following this volatile reaction to the state pension proposal, the Government has suggested people purchase a ‘Prescription Prepayment Certificate’ (PPC) to reduce their bill.

A PPC costs £108.10 a year 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 on low incomes.

Speaking previously to Express.co.uk, 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. We are considering the responses carefully and will respond in due course.”

Express.co.uk has reached out to the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.

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