A leading charity has today launched a campaign to try and force the government into a U-turn over its plan to raise the age for prescription exemptions to 66.
Age UK has warned that nearly 2.5 million people between 60 and 65 in England will have to start paying for their prescriptions if the proposal, which has been put to public consultation until September 2, is pushed through.
Age UK described the plan as “short-sighted” and said it risked “piling extra pressure on the NHS if, as is predictable, some older people stop adhering to their treatment regime” because they cannot afford their prescriptions.
The charity’s Save Free Prescriptions campaign encourages people to contact the Department of Health and Social Care via a pre-prepared email and ask them to maintain free prescriptions for the over-60s.
“Age UK is worried that scrapping free prescription charges for 60 to 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 said.
“[We are] 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 dismissed the government’s argument that 60 to 65-year-olds could buy a prescription pre-payment certificate (PPC) to reduce their costs if free prescriptions for their age group are abolished.
“This requires either up-front payment or setting up a direct debit, something which many older people may not be able to afford,” Age UK said.
It said it was concerned that a lack of awareness of PPCs among 55 to 59-year-olds could be replicated in the 60 to 65-year-old age group, which would "equate to 240,000 people who would be paying too much for their prescriptions".
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said the proposal was "a kick in the teeth both for poorly older people and the NHS", adding that any money saved by raising the free prescription age "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.”