Scrapping Free Prescriptions For Over-60s “A Kick In The Teeth Both For Poorly Older People And The NHS”

Age Concern has launched its new ‘Save Free Prescriptions’ campaign in response to a new consultation that was pushed out by the Government last month.

The charity says that it is extremely disappointing that a policy that could have such a significant impact on millions of older people is being consulted on over August and that it was published without much fanfare.

The consultation puts forward proposals to increase the qualifying age for free prescriptions from 60 to the State Pension age, which is currently 66 for both men and women but is on track to rise further.

The Charity argues that this move is a #BitterPillToSwallow and could affect millions of people reaching 60 in the future unless they qualify for certain benefits or have a medical exemption, as well as those already aged 60-65 if the Government decides not to protect them. People will be particularly affected if their income is modest but takes them just above the benefit line. It also penalises people in poor health and in need of multiple medicines because they are managing several serious long term health conditions, like heart disease or hypertension – one of a number of conditions which are more prevalent among Black African and Black Caribbean ethnic groups – though surprisingly the Government’s Impact Assessment fails to look at whether their proposed policy will have a disproportionate impact on ethnic minority groups.

Age UK is worried that scrapping free prescription charges for 60-65 year olds is likely to exacerbate existing health inequalities and have a devastating impact on many people’s health, especially if they are hard up but have incomes above the benefits line. The Charity is deeply concerned that this is the age at which the chance of living with one or more long-term conditions significantly increases, so people are much more likely to need to take multiple medicines. With many already struggling to meet basic living costs, this levy on poor health could prevent them from managing their conditions.

The Charity argues that it is also not helpful for older people that experience short, unexpected episodes of illness, during which they may need multiple medicines, to recover and subsequently face a large bill for their prescriptions.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, said: “This proposed policy is a kick in the teeth, both for poorly older people and the NHS. It is also extremely ill-judged, because the money the Government will save by scrapping free prescriptions for 60-65 years olds will almost certainly be outweighed by the additional costs to the NHS, if people fail to take their medication because they can’t afford it and become ill.

“We are already hearing some older people on multiple medicines saying they will have to choose which ones to drop, and others are expecting to ration how much they take. The problem is that treatments don’t work like that: if the prescribed dosage says one tablet every day it may not work at all if you only take it every two or three days.

“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.

“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.”