Information and local thoughts on raising the age of free prescriptions

The other week on our Facebook page we asked our community what they thought about the impending government decision to increase the age of accessing free prescriptions. As expected, we got a big reaction. 

History of prescriptions and where we are today

Charges for prescriptions were first introduced in 1952. In 2019, approximately £600 million was generated in revenue from prescription charges, which the government says is used to support the direct delivery of NHS services.

In England, out of the 1.1 billion prescription items dispensed in 2018, almost 90% of those were given free of charge due to payment exemptions (under 16 or over 60).

Currently, those aged 60 or over can access free prescriptions on the NHS but this could be raised to 66, which is the state pension age.

Here’s what the people of Greater Manchester said about the new proposal:

“I have 2 years until I get to 66 and could not afford to pay for my prescriptions. Through no fault of my own, I have to take 6 tablets a day and could not afford to pay. This scares me I don’t mind admitting it.” – Karen Harvey O’Hara

“Yet another attack on the most vulnerable.” – Bob Alston

“They should remain free as we have already lost out with not receiving State Pension at 60.” – Diane Cowley

“I suspect the decision has already been made. Often we learn of these so-called proposals too late. I have to say though that I don’t really think that all over 60s deserve free prescriptions or free anything else for that matter. An article in the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago told of a businessman and Tory donor retiring on a lump sum of over a million pounds with a pension of over £60k a year. He definitely doesn’t qualify in my opinion.” – Maggie Frost

“My bugbear was I took early retirement due to ill health and I had to pay for my prescription even though I was on reduced income!” – Peta Harrison

“The majority of people reaching this age have paid for this over many years of NI contributions.” – Doug Hall

“Yes I am nearly a pensioner in November worked nearly all my life paid in we should get free prescriptions mine would cost me £80 per month, how can we afford that on pension? I would have to do without!” – Sheila Richards

What happens now?

The government has different options for how they will go about their proposal.

The first, Option A, is to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions to 66 (state pension age) for everyone.

Option B is to raise the age to 66 for everyone, but add a period of protection. This would mean that anyone aged 60 and over (when the changes to the Charges Regulations are implemented) would continue to be exempt from prescription charges. Those aged 59-66 would be expected to continue paying.

The ’60 years of age or over’ might become ’66’

What about PPC’s and other exemptions? 

Prescription prepayment certificates (PPC’s) would still be in place. They are available to help those who require frequent prescriptions and who are not exempt from charges. For example, a three-month PPC costs £30.25.

Exemptions under other categories, such as income or medical-related exemptions, are expected to stay put.

Disability 

Those with a long-term condition, not covered by an existing exemption, but who fall into the age group 60 to 65, may be required to pay (if there is an increase to the exemption age).

Due to the fact that a larger proportion of disabled people require prescriptions, it is likely that this decision will impact them more significantly.

What are the possible outcomes and consequences?

Whilst reviewing their proposal, the government has admitted that there may be a change to patient behaviour, leading to “unintended outcomes”.

These include people not taking their prescribed medications due to cost, people trying to make medicines last longer by taking an incorrect amount, people avoiding preventative medicines and increased hospital admissions including A&E visits and GP appointments.

What can I do if I don’t agree with the proposal?

You have until 2 September 2021 to complete the government’s online consultation on the decision to put your views forward.

There is also an online petition running addressed to the Secretary of State Health Sajid Javid, which has attracted over 170,000 digital signatures.

What is your opinion? How will this affect you?

Leave us a comment or drop us a line/story/opinion to [email protected]

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