Thursday, February 22, 2024

Free NHS prescriptions for over-60s may be axed from April

THE era of free NHS prescriptions for all over-60s looks set to end this April.

For more than 25 years, people aged 60 or older have received their prescriptions for free, but controversial plans to begin imposing fees could come into force.

Last year, the Government announced plans to lift the qualifying age for free prescriptions in England from 60 to age 66, to bring them into line with the State Pension age.

It said many people aged from 60 to 65 remain in employment and can therefore afford to meet the cost.

Prescription charges usually increase on April 1, sparking fears that this will also be the date when the free prescriptions for over-60s could also come to an end, The Express reports.

The blow could hit millions of older people in England living with chronic conditions, although many will still remain exempt from charges.

The next few months will see a blizzard of tax and price hikes, as income tax bills, National Insurance charges, energy prices, council tax demands and rail fares all get more punitive, warned Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

The NHS prescription charge reforms would come on top of all these, she said.

If the change is made, 60-65 year olds may continue to qualify for free NHS prescriptions if they are on a low income, qualify for certain benefits or have a medical exemption.

“At the moment there’s no charge for over-60s but that could soon change. If it does, it would drag millions of people into having to pay for essential medicines,” said Ms Coles.

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

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

Ms Coles said the Government has yet to confirm if prescription charges will rise but warned: “2022 is a year of change, but not in a good way. Most of the financial developments in the pipeline will leave us worse off.” 

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

Those with serious conditions can limit the total cost by purchasing a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC), which costs £108.10 for a year of “free” prescriptions. However, this could also rise with inflation. 

The move to scrap free prescriptions for over-60s has come under fire from many organisations.

Prescription Charges Coalition chair Laura Cockram has warned of “the dire impact of the proposals on those living with health conditions”.

Age UK has called plans to end free NHS prescriptions for the over-60s in England a “bitter pill to swallow for millions”.

Director Caroline Abrahams said prescriptions are free for everyone in Scotland and Wales and the principle should be extended to England, too.

The Royal College of GPs and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society are also campaigning against the changes, and Ms Abrahams said: “We want the Government to realise this will hit those on lower incomes hardest.” 

The Government’s consultation on the changes closed on September 3 and the Department of Health and Social Care has said it will respond “in due course”.


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