Free NHS prescriptions for millions of older people in England could be scrapped under a proposal by Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
His idea would be to tag the age at which people get free prescriptions to the State Pension age, which is 66, but which is set to rise higher. This may mean that people over 60 will have to wait until they’re 68 to claim free prescriptions, reports the Mirror.
This change could force millions of English people to dig into their pockets for their NHS-prescribed medicines. Free prescriptions have been available for more than half a century.
All prescriptions in Scotland and Wales will remain free, as this change will only affect England. Equally, this change will only affect those who automatically get free prescriptions due to their age – meaning those eligible due to illness or disability will still receive their medication free.
The two options presented by the Department of Health in a public consultation focus on the implementation of this change. Option A would raise the free prescription age immediately to 66, while Option B would only introduce this for new over-60s.
In its plans, the Government state: “Option B is to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions to the State Pension Age (currently 66), but with a period of protection, which would mean that people in the age range 60 to 65 would continue to receive free prescriptions. 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.
“Whereas those aged 59 and under when the changes to the Charges Regulations are implemented would have to pay for their prescriptions until they reach the SPA (currently 66), unless they qualified for another exemption. The above options would have varying impacts for people who need NHS prescriptions, and could raise additional revenue for the NHS.”
While these changes will see millions more people paying for their prescriptions, many who are eligible for free prescriptions are not claiming them. The qualifying factors for free prescriptions:
- Those who are pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months, with a valid maternity exemption certificate
- Students and apprentices in a form of post-16 education
- Anyone with a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate
- People with a continuing physical disability that prevents them from going out without help from another person, with a valid medical exemption certificate
- War pensioners with an exemption certificate and where the prescription is for an accepted disability
- Any NHS inpatient
Those receiving welfare benefits such as Universal Credit – if they also meet the NHS’ financial criteria. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Around 90% of community prescription items 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 with the state pension age. We are considering the responses carefully and will respond in due course.”
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