‘I am afraid!’ Over 60s to lose free NHS prescriptions – Scotland and Wales to pay nothing

Martin Lewis discusses prescription prepayment certificates

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According to the latest Government proposals, the time that someone can get their prescription without being charged could be raised from 60 to 66 to align with the state pension age. NHS prescription charges remain a burden for many people in England, while those in Scotland and Wales do not have to pay for their medication. In response to this disparity, organisations such as Age UK are calling for free prescriptions to be saved for those over 60 as a means of protecting the most vulnerable people in society.

One of the many people who has reached out to the charity about the situation regarding NHS prescriptions is Sandra, a woman in her fifties who is concerned about her ability to pay for essential medication going forward.

Speaking about her situation, Sandra 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.”

For many people across the UK, there was an expectation they would not have to worry about paying a sum of money for prescriptions. However, now they will have to reach the state pension age to qualify for this crucial “freebie” benefit.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, outlined how the fines levied at pensioners in England are “unfair” in light of the lack of charges for all people living in Scotland and Wales.

Ms Abrahams explained: “This policy proposal seems all the more unfair because prescriptions are free for everyone in Scotland and Wales.

“There’s a strong public health case for heading in that direction here in England too.

“Instead, our Government wants to do the opposite: make many more people pay for their medicines, and at an age when it’s all the more important they take them, to control conditions that left untreated can lead to really serious medical problems, piling more pressure onto the NHS.

“If ever there was a self-defeating policy this is it, and we know that many medical experts agree with us.”

In response to criticism of this policy change, the Government is recommending that those with prescriptions purchase ‘Prescription Pre-payment Certificate’ (PPC) to mitigate the costly charge.

Currently, the price of a PPC comes to £108.10 a year and needs to be bought by either setting up a direct debit or making an upfront payment, which many over 60s are unable to do on a whim.

Ms Abrahams added: “If someone in this age group decides their best option is to buy a Pre Payment Certificate every year it would cost them more than £600 in their run up to retirement, so from that point of view this really is a stealth tax on older people.

“However, it’s also clear that some could end up paying a lot more than that, because awareness of these Certificates is quite low, and that others could buy one and then find they would have been better off without it. This seems really unfair.

“Essentially we think this is a terrible proposal that deserves never to see the light of day.

“We hope that thousands of people will respond to the Government’s consultation and tell them so in no uncertain terms. Ministers definitely need to think again.”

“Unpaid carers have played a fundamental role in keeping their loved ones safe for years, especially during the pandemic.”

On top of the impact on over 60s generally, Age UK and other charities have warned the changes to free NHS prescriptions would disproportionately affect unpaid carers.

James O’Loan, CEO of Chemist4U, outlined how the Government’s policy shift would be “devastating” for millions of people across England.

“To remove free NHS prescriptions away for an estimated 2.4 million people aged between 60-65 including pensioners and unpaid carers is taking away a very necessary lifeline away from those who need it the most.”

“The impact could be devastating. We may see carers and pensioners giving up vital medication because they can’t afford these proposed costs.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson previously told Express.co.uk: “Around 90 percent of community prescriptions in England are free of charge, and people don’t pay if they are on a low income, over 60, 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 between this and the state pension age. No final decisions have been made and we will publish the consultation response in due course.”

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