Will over 60s lose free prescriptions?

There are suggestions in many newspapers that prescription charges will soon apply to over 60s due to a consultation held in September 2021 on this very issue (quietly, while we were all worrying about Covid). Many women of a certain age are still smarting over losing 6 years of state pension without notice when pension ages were aligned; now it seems prescription charges may also be set to align with state pension ages. Bear in mind that even in 2020 the gender pay gap was 15.5% due primarily to childcare and elder care duties which tend to fall to women.

The Dept Health and Social Care says:

Prescription charges were first introduced in 1952. They were abolished in 1965 but then reintroduced, with exemptions, in 1968 because of budgetary pressures. In 2019 approximately £600 million was generated in revenue from prescription charges which supported direct delivery of NHS services.

In England out of 1.1 billion items dispensed in 2018, almost 90% of prescription items dispensed in the community in England were free of charge. Almost 63% of all items were dispensed free of charge because the patient was aged 60 or over. The prescription charge exemptions cover 3 broad categories:

  • those of a certain age, that is those:
    • under 16
    • aged 16 to 18 in full time education
    • aged 60 and over
  • those on low income, that is via certain Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and tax credits (which will largely be replaced by Universal Credit) and the NHS Low Income Scheme
  • those with certain medical conditions and expectant or new mothers

There have been very few changes to the exemption arrangements introduced in 1968. The only change to the list of exempt medical conditions was the addition of cancer in April 2009.

Age UK opposed the measure saying:

The Government’s proposal is unfair because prescriptions are free for everyone in Scotland and Wales. There’s a strong public health case for free prescriptions and we think we should be heading in that direction in England too.

Instead, our Government wants to do the opposite: make people pay for their medicines when they’re of an age when it’s 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 we think this is it, and many medical experts agree with us.

Other organisations have communicated their concerns to the government; here are a few:

  • Some patients would be disinclined to act on their health concerns if they cannot afford medication. Each item currently costs £9.35 for people paying prescription charges.
  • It is estimated that 15% of people would not adhere to their medication protocols if charging was introduced.
  • Many people would only present to their GP when conditions were very serious or chronic.
  • It is a tax on the sick at a time when people tend to need medication for hypertension and other age-related conditions.
  • Prescriptions are free for everyone in Scotland and Wales where the NHS still seems fully operational.
  • Life expectancy has stopped growing longer and is now getting shorter; therefore, arguments about growing numbers of older people needing prescriptions falters.

Maybe it is all just another nail in the dismantling of the NHS or am I being cynical?


Your comments are welcome, as ever:


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