Health Charities Urge “Rethink” On Plan To Raise Prescription Qualifying Age

Health charities, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the British Geriatrics Society have joined together to issue an open letter, urging the Government to rethink its proposal to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions in England from 60 to 66.

The letter highlights their ‘deep shared concern’ that scrapping free prescription charges for 60–65 year-olds is likely to intensify existing health inequalities and have a devastating impact on some older people’s health.  With many older people already struggling to meet basic living costs, this additional levy on poor health could prevent them from managing their health conditions, especially if they are on a modest income but still above the benefits line.

The letter continues by highlighting how the Government’s proposal will have a lasting adverse impact on the half (52%) of 60-64yr olds with one or more long term conditions.  While some patients will find the change affordable, significant numbers will not.  The DHSC impact analysis highlights that these patients will find it harder to proactively manage their conditions, presenting in their local health service as their conditions deteriorate.  New analysis by Age UK reveals that each year, tens of thousands of people may require hospital treatment (1), having cut back on their medication due to no longer being eligible for free prescriptions

The DHSC itself has estimated savings of £198-£257m p.a. for the NHS as a whole, which is a tiny fraction of the NHS £212.1bn budget (2) What’s more, this estimate does not take into account the extra costs to local health services from addressing the more complex issues that will arise for the patients who feel unable to afford their medication.  These patients are more likely to live in more deprived communities, with services that are more overstretched and under-resourced than in more affluent areas.  There are no specific measures in place to direct the money saved by this proposal to less favoured localities, and the change seriously risks widening health inequalities at a time when the Government and the NHS are committed to narrowing them.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “The money the Government raises if it goes ahead with this proposal will be easily outweighed by the additional costs to the NHS if, as is predictable, some people fail to take their medication and become sicker, more quickly.  Tens of thousands may require hospital treatment due to rationing what they take, so this really is a bad idea that will hit people who are poorly and on modest incomes hardest of all.

“Once we reach our early to mid-sixties many of us are advised by our doctors to take medicines that are proven to keep potentially serious health conditions safely under control. If the Government goes ahead with its proposal, it is clear that some people will be reluctant to act on symptoms or get a diagnosis, for fear they will be unable to afford long term, symptom relieving or even in some cases lifesaving medication. The Government should definitely think again.”

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of Council of Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “We have always been supportive of any safe and sensible measures to reduce medication costs for patients and ensure equitable access to necessary medication for all patients.

“Introducing an additional cost for over 60s managing long term health conditions will, albeit unintentionally, disproportionately affect a large group of patients who are on low incomes but just above the threshold for financial help with the costs of their medication. Many patients are already waiting longer for treatment or will have seen their health deteriorate as a result of the challenges of the last 18 months.  This change will discourage patients who are financially less well-off from managing their health proactively, and could mean that they present to general practice when their problems are far worse and at a time when general practice is already at breaking point. We urge government to reconsider these proposals.”

Thorrun Govind, Royal Pharmaceutical Society English Pharmacy Board Chair, said: “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, President, British Geriatrics Society 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 to the medications they need to effectively manage their health.”

 

 

 

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