The Government has announced a decision to to keeping prescriptions free for over-60s, rather than raising the age limit in line with the state pension age.
This follows a consultation which had considered whether people should not be eligible for free prescription until the age of 66, or later if the state pension age were to change.
The Government said that its decision not to make the change was influenced by ‘a number of factors’ including the current cost of living and the increased medical needs of an ageing population.
People aged under 16, as well as those in full time education aged 18 or under, will also continue to receive free prescriptions, as will those in receipt of certain benefits, the Government confirmed.
And it highlighted the NHS Low Income Scheme and prepayment certificates (PPC) as forms of support for prescription costs.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society England board chair Thorrun Govind described the outcome as ‘a victory for common sense’, saying it would come as ‘a huge relief to all those whose finances are already on the edge because of the cost of living crisis’.
She also described prescription charges as an ‘unfair tax on health for people in England’ and called for the ‘complex and bureaucratic system’ to be abolished.
‘The NHS is meant to be free at the point of use, but England is the only country in the UK that continues to charge patients for their prescriptions. Medicines are the most common intervention in healthcare and should not be seen as a revenue tool,’ she said.
Raising the free prescription age in line with the state pension age was first proposed in a public consultation launched in 2021, but the idea was rumoured to have been abandoned earlier this year.
Many have called for the prescription charge system to be reformed, with campaigners recently calling for the list of conditions exempt from the prescription charge to be updated, following a survey which found patients with long-term health conditions were skipping medication due to cost.
Prescriptions are free for people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society has said that the system should be overhauled in England to make prescriptions free for people with long-term health conditions, after its own survey found an increase in patients failing to collect prescriptions due to cost.
A Healthwatch England survey recently found that one in 10 patients in England have avoided taking up an NHS prescription because of cost, while the same number avoided buying over-the-counter medication they normally rely on.
A version of this story was first published by Pulse’s sister title The Pharmacist